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Lebanon parliament fails to meet necessary quorum to elect new president as political crisis deepens

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri heads the first session to elect a new president at the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 29, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Lebanon's parliament has failed to elect a new president after no candidate could receive the necessary two-thirds majority to win the presidency in the first parliamentary vote, amid bitter divisions over a replacement for Michel Aoun whose term terminates next month.

Thursday's session was attended by 122 members of the 128-strong legislature, of whom 66 cast blank ballots.

Christian politician Michel Moawad, the son of former president Rene Moawad, emerged as the front-runner but his 36 votes fell well short of the 86 needed to win in the first round.

Eleven lawmakers voted for entrepreneur and philanthropist Salim Edde, while 10 others cast their ballots for “Lebanon.”

Dozens of legislators walked out of the session after the results of the first round were announced, stripping the second round of voting.

Speaker Nabih Berri said he would not call a new session of parliament before “consensus” is secured over a certain candidate to be elected as the next president – a process that could take months in a country which has been suffering from a crippling financial crisis since 2019, and constitutional deadlines are routinely missed.

A statement by Aoun's office said the president was “satisfied with the launch of the electoral process” and expressed hopes that the parliament would continue to meet to elect a president within the constitutional timeframe.

Top official: Hezbollah won’t let US impose its favored president on Lebanon

Meanwhile, a high-ranking official from Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance movement says his group will not allow the election of a new president, who is subservient to the United States and implements Washington’s diktats.

Sayyed Hashem Safieddine, head of the Executive Council of Hezbollah, called on the Lebanese nation to stay away from the US’s deceptive policies.

“Certain pro-US individuals and political factions are gravely mistaken to pursue Washington’s interests either in the forthcoming election or any other political initiative in the hope of saving Lebanon,” Safieddine said.

“It is downright impossible for a US-allied candidate to be elected as Lebanon’s next president,” the senior Hezbollah official pointed out.

Deep divisions among lawmakers have raised fears Lebanon could be left without a president after Aoun's mandate expires at the end of October.

The incumbent's own election in 2016 came after a 29-month vacancy at the presidential palace as lawmakers made 45 failed attempts to reach consensus on a candidate.

“If there is a political vacuum, the economic crisis would intensify and there is a clear risk of security incidents,” analyst Karim Bitar said.

The international community has pressed Lebanese lawmakers to elect a new president in “timely” fashion to avoid plunging the country deeper into crisis.

Lebanon is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to streamline the implementation of reforms required to unlock billions in loans before Aoun's term expires.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 95 percent of its value on the black market since 2019.

According to the United Nations, the ongoing financial crisis in Lebanon has caused poverty rates to reach more than 80 percent of the population, and food prices have risen by 2,000 percent.

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