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Lebanon's parliament blocks nomination of a new president for the fifth time

The alliance between the Christian Free Patriotic Movement and the Shi'ite Hezbollah militia party is obstructing the nomination of a successor to the retiring Michel Aoun
Nabih Berri

AFP/ANWAR AMRO  -   Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri

The divided Lebanese parliament held a fifth session on Thursday morning to elect a new president following the retirement of Michel Aoun, whose mandate officially expired on 31 October. The official residence of the head of state has remained empty since then and is unlikely to find a new tenant any time soon. 

The billionaire prime minister, Nayib Mikati, is acting as interim president until the nomination of a successor, who must be a Maronite Christian, in accordance with the tacit division of power between the different religious denominations in Lebanon. 

But for the umpteenth time there was no way to choose a president. Several deputies from the Free Patriotic Movement, Aoun's own party, and from the Hezbollah Shiite militia party, decided to leave the session after a first round of voting. 

This situation, a recurring one in parliament, invalidates the election of any candidate. A quorum of 86 out of 128 members is required, which was not reached despite assurances from Speaker Nabih Berri.  

Michel Moawad, the son of the short-lived former Lebanese president assassinated in 1989, René Moawad, was the most voted candidate with 44 ballots, five more than in the fourth session to elect a president. However, after the quorum was lost, the deputy speaker of parliament, Elias Bou Saab, cancelled the session and announced that a sixth session would be held on 17 November.

Michel Moawad
PHOTO/@michelmoawad  -   Michel Moawad, son of the short-lived former Lebanese president assassinated in 1989, René Moawad, and candidate for the Lebanese presidency

A large number of MPs accused Berri of obstructing the election process and violating the constitutional mandate. 

Lebanese Forces MP Georges Adwan, who rivals the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, was encouraged by the number of supporters Moawad won. According to Adwan, the independent candidate for the Zgharta district may have collected five new votes from MPs absent for personal reasons. For the LF member, Moawad is "a serious candidate". Not so for MPL member Alain Aoun, who believes that the deadlock will persist unless "the parties do not change candidates". 

The scenario for the fifth ballot was again the same as in the previous four sessions, but the reformist Moawad, Hezbollah's political adversary, remains the best placed to succeed Aoun. He is not likely to drop out of the race. "From one session to the next, it is clear that the number of people voting for me is increasing, while all the other proposals are decreasing". 

Lebanon is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is the most severe in centuries. The shortage of public resources is compounded by an indefinite crisis of government that has paralysed institutions.