Lebanon's parliament fails to elect a new president

The term of office of Michel Aoun, the current head of state, expires on 31 October. The political vacuum threatens to aggravate the country's economic crisis

AFP/ANWAR AMRO  -   Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri

The Lebanese parliament has failed to elect a new president to replace Michel Aoun, whose term of office expires on 31 October. The centre-right Christian politician, Michel Moawad, was the candidate with the most votes, although his 36 votes fell far short of the 86 needed to win in the first round.

Behind the son of former President René Moawad was Salim Eddé, also a Christian, since under Lebanon's confessional power-sharing system, the country's presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

The first session was attended by 122 of the 128 deputies in the chamber, 66 of whom voted blank. There were also protest votes. One of those in dispute wrote on the ballot the name of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish girl killed for wearing the wrong veil, AP reports. 

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri did not announce a date for a new session, saying only that he would convene a new round when there is consensus on a candidate, a process that could take months.

Hezbollah deputy Mohammed Raad said that the different parliamentary blocs are in the "initial stages" of finding a president who will "bring stability to the country", as reported by AP. "The blocs need to talk and come to an understanding on a possible candidate," he said.

AFP/ DALATI AND NOHRA - Michel Aoun, President of Lebanon
Political and economic crisis

This new political crisis accentuates the country's long-standing economic crisis. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value against the dollar, which has led to a decline in the purchasing power of Lebanese citizens. According to UN figures, 80 per cent of the Lebanese population is below the poverty line.

"If there is a political vacuum, the economic crisis intensifies and there is a clear risk of security incidents," analyst Karim Bitar warns AFP. The collapse of the Lebanese economy has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in history since the 1850s. 

REUTERS/MOHAMED AZAKIRA - Central Bank of Lebanon building in Beirut

Lebanon's dire situation is of regional and international concern. For this reason, last week, France, Saudi Arabia and the United States issued a joint statement urging Lebanese MPs to "elect a president who can unite the people". In the statement, the three countries offer to "work with Lebanon" at a time of "unprecedented crisis".

They also stress the need to "implement structural and economic reforms" to solve the country's crisis, in particular "those reforms that are essential to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund".

The IMF is pressing Beirut to adopt measures and reforms to speed up a bailout programme before the end of Aoun's mandate. However, the IMF has recently criticised the slow process of implementing reforms.