09/30/2022, 13.05
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Beirut, a divided parliament forced to agree on the President of the Republic

by Fady Noun

Yesterday, after a long delay, the first vote to choose Aoun's successor was held. A passage that sanctioned the divisions (over Hezbollah) and pushed the Speaker to force his hand towards an agreement. The risk of stalemate and the double governmental and presidential vacancy. Pressure from the international community.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - "If you want this Parliament, and Lebanon too, to continue to exist, you must find an understanding!" With these words the Speaker of the House, Shiite Nabih Berry, concluded yesterday's vote to elect a new president of the Republic, called to succeed Michel Aoun, whose term expires on 31 October. Berry added that he intends to set the date of the next voting session according to the progress that will be made on this agreement between the parties. 

Convened at a very late date, at the end of the first of the two months (September and October) stipulated by the Constitution, the Parliament failed to elect a new head of state in the first round of voting. The failure was expected, given the composition of the House, divided into two parties around the issue of arms to Hezbollah, a long-standing source of confrontation. Neither side has an absolute majority of votes (half plus one, or 65), let alone the two-thirds of seats needed to elect a candidate in the first round (86 votes).

Of the 122 out of 128 deputies that make up the Chamber present at the vote (six absent), 63 have left a blank ballot: these are those of the Shiite tandem (Amal and Hezbollah), Gebran Bassil's Cpl and some independents and their allies. On the other hand, the sovereignist front hostile to Hezbollah (whose core is formed by the Lebanese Forces, the Kataëb party and Walid Joumblatt's Druze bloc) voted in favour of Michel Moawad, son of the former president René Moawad, assassinated in 1989, who received 36 votes. The deputies of the 'contestation' (representing the October 2019 protest movement) swung without explanation to Sélim Eddé (13 votes), a brilliant businessman who is not, however, a candidate, after being refused the nomination of jurist and former MP Salah Honein.

Hampered by the withdrawal of its leader Saad Hariri from political life at the beginning of the year, the Sunni camp managed at the last minute to form a group of a dozen or so deputies who wrote only one word on their ballot papers: Lebanon.

In the 'blank ballot' camp, the Shiite deputies who were in principle in favour of the candidature of the northern leader Sleiman Frangié could not express their preference in his favour without being abandoned to their fate by Cpl President Bassil, Frangié's rival.  Without weighty representatives of the Sunni and Druze communities, this camp cannot hope to elect a head of state who is the son of an 'understanding'. The same reasoning applies to the sovereignist camp, which lacks influential figures from the Sunni and Shia communities. As Berry points out, both sides are doomed to go along and come to an understanding, because each has the weapon of a quorum to prevent the other from winning the election and electing its own candidate.

This 'first vote' has convinced the deputies present in the chamber of the absolute necessity of a confrontation between the parties, in the face of the danger of being without a president of the Republic for months when Aoun's term expires at the end of October. A repeat of what had already happened in 2016, when the country of the cedars was left without a head of state for more than two years.

And this agreement is all the more necessary given that the nation is also experiencing a political impasse regarding the formation of a new government, due to a deep disagreement on the issue between President Aoun himself and resigning Prime Minister Nagib Mikati. Article 75 of the Constitution stipulates that, in the event of a presidential vacancy, the prerogatives of the head of state are taken over provisionally by the Council of Ministers. However, Aoun refuses to hand over his prerogatives to a resigning government and threatens not to leave the presidential palace unless a new government favourable to his camp is formed.

To avert Lebanon from a destructive prospect brought about by a double vacancy at the governmental and presidential levels, France, Saudi Arabia and the United States issued a joint statement last week urging MPs to 'elect a president who can unite the Lebanese people'. This unity is all the more indispensable as the country is in economic crisis, with social suffering and tensions. The International Monetary Fund has conditioned aid of around three billion euro on the implementation of reforms linked to the proper functioning of institutions. 

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