Will the Lebanese parliament manage to elect a president today?

Sleiman Frangieh and Jihad Azour competing for presidency, as the Lebanese Parliament convenes for the twelfth time in an attempt to elect a new leader.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri holds a parliamentary session at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon October 19, 2021. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri holds a parliamentary session at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon [File: Aziz Taher/Reuters]

The Lebanese Parliament is set to meet today to choose a new president, a process that has already failed 11 times since 2022.

There are two main candidates expected to run on Wednesday to succeed former President Michel Aoun: Marada party leader Sleiman Frangieh and former regional director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Jihad Azour.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why has this process failed so many times?

Aoun stepped down at the end of October 2022 and a replacement should have been in place before then.

Lebanon’s complex confessional political system and the lack of a clear, unified opposition in parliament have made naming a new leader difficult.

According to St Joseph University senior researcher and professor Wissam el-Lahham, the vote is likely to fail again.

The session could potentially be a turning point for the country if Hezbollah and its allies do not cast blank ballots – something they have done in the past when they did not approve of any of the candidates.

Who are the candidates?

There is no formal nomination for the position so it is difficult to know before the session starts who the MPs will be choosing between, as they are allowed to cast a vote for anyone they choose.

In this round of voting, however, the competition seems to be divided between Frangieh and Azour.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun giving a televised speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut
President Michel Aoun stepped down at the end of October 2022 [Stringer/Dalati and Nohra/AFP]

Frangieh is the leader of the Marada Party and grandson of former president Sleiman Frangieh. He was appointed member of parliament in 1991 to fill his late father’s seat and subsequently won three consecutive terms until he lost his position in 2005.

In 2009, he was elected as an MP for the Maronite seat of Zgharta al-Zawiyah. His son, Tony Frangieh, took over his seat in 2018, as happens often in Lebanon.

Jihad Azour is less well-versed in politics. He was Lebanon’s minister of finance in Fouad Saniora’s government from 2005 to 2008 and, until last week, held the position of regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the IMF.

Azour recently seemed to gain support from the Free Patriotic Movement and other opposition parties, while Frangieh has been backed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement for months.

Michel Moawad, leader of the Independence Movement and son of former president Rene Moawad, got the majority of the votes in the previous sessions but never secured the quorum for a win.

Other names could also surface in today’s session, such as former interior minister Ziad Baroud.

What are the criteria for the job?

The president of Lebanon has to be from the Maronite Christian faith, in accordance with the National Pact, an unwritten pact between Lebanon’s political blocs that was first agreed in 1943.

Based on a national census from the 1930s, the National Pact stipulates that the president and commander of the army be Maronite, the prime minister is Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament is Shia Muslim.

The deputy speaker of parliament and deputy prime minister positions are held by Greek Orthodox Christian individuals and the armed forces chief of the general staff of the armed forces is always Druze.

The MPs themselves are divided along a quota system, with a ratio of 6:5 required of Christians to Muslims and Druze.

How does voting work?

Parliament requires a quorum of 86 out of the 128 lawmakers, or two-thirds, to elect a new leader in the first round of voting.

If MPs do not agree on any of the candidates, they could cast votes with symbolic slogans or name a candidate other than the ones being voted on, to send a political message.

El-Lahham told Al Jazeera it is highly unlikely that any candidate would secure two-thirds of the vote in the first round on Wednesday.

If the session moves to the second round of voting, only a majority of 65 MPs is required for the candidate to win.

Source: Al Jazeera