10/12/2022, 08.00
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Lebanon, a nation adrift in an institutional vacuum

by Fady Noun

Three weeks after the end of President Aoun's term of office, the appointment of his successor and a new executive is still a distant reality. A new vote in the House is expected tomorrow, but a quorum is unlikely to be reached. Attempts at compromise seem akin to immobility and maintaining the status quo. 


Beirut (AsiaNews) - While the international community, with France, the United States and Saudi Arabia in the lead, is eager to see a new president of the republic elected, the Lebanese give the impression that they have plenty of time ahead of them.

Three weeks before the end of Head of State Michel Aoun's term of office (on 31 October), the cedar country is still in a buoyant situation: without a new president and, even more so, without a new government. And it seems highly unlikely, despite the forcing of Saudi Arabia and France, led by the transalpine Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna expected in Lebanon by the weekend, that anything else will happen and the situation will change radically in the short timeframe that the Constitution provides for the election. 

From a constitutional point of view, the legislature had foreseen such a situation. The Constitution (Article 75), indicates that in the event of a presidential vacancy, the powers and prerogatives of the Head of State are assumed provisionally by the Council of Ministers. According to some, there will be no complete institutional vacum, because an interim government called to deal with current affairs, headed by Nagib Mikati, is still in office. And the parliament elected last May is fully operational in its various sessions. 

However, some, such as Gebran Bassil, president of the Free Patriotic Movement (CLP), question the ability of a resigning government to assume presidential functions on an interim basis. There were even calls in September for the head of state not to leave the presidential palace if a new executive was not formed with the confidence of the House. Although the deadline has not yet expired, the prospect remains and it is easy to imagine the institutional confusion that would arise in the latter case. 

Certainly, the prime minister and head of state have met several times to agree on a new government formula. However, these efforts come up against the claims of the CPL, which seeks to replace some ministers, to ensure that at least one third of the members of the future executive are loyal and allied to it, thus obtaining a right of veto on all issues requiring a vote. Moreover Mikati is vehemently opposed to this prospect, believing that it would end up prolonging - albeit indirectly - Aoun's mandate. 

On the parliamentary front, the House is scheduled to meet tomorrow for the second time since the beginning of September to elect a successor to President Aoun. But this sitting has no chance of success, for two reasons: firstly because the Cpl bloc (21 MPs) will not attend, because the date of 13 October symbolises the expulsion of General Michel Aoun from Baabda Palace by the Syrian army in 1990. What's more, the two major parties present do not yet have, each on their own, the 86 votes needed (equal to two-thirds of the 128 deputies in the House) to elect the president in the first round, with a two-thirds majority, as required by the Constitution.

The charter specifies that in the second round the president is elected by an absolute majority (65 votes), but both sides have the option of scuttling the two-thirds quorum of the House, so that this second round cannot in fact take place. Despite this handicap, Saudi Arabia's ambassador Walid Boukhari is intensifying his visits at this stage to support Mouawad's candidacy and convince the undecided in the Sunni community who, in the previous session, deposited a ballot paper with 'Lebanon' written on it. At the end of the day, at least 86 MPs will have to unite and support this candidacy, a quota they are unlikely to reach. 

Everything suggests that the next Lebanese president will necessarily be the product of compromise. To date, the only one who seems able to get elected is the army commander, General Joseph Aoun.

However, the Constitution stipulates that he cannot be elected unless he has submitted his resignation from his official duties two years in advance: a constitutional amendment would therefore be needed. In the event of a vacancy in the presidential office, this provision falls automatically and a constitutional amendment is no longer necessary. Some are betting on this formula, hoping that the duration of the presidential vacancy will be as short as possible. 

It remains to be seen whether the camp supporting Michel Mouawad's candidacy will change its stance with the prospect of a military election. The European Union seems to have aligned itself with the prospect of a compromise candidacy. In a joint message published on 27 September, the EU ambassadors stated: 'The only realistic chance today to get Lebanon out of the red zone is about to be lost [...] due to a lack of willingness to compromise, vision and leadership'. The question is whether this warning will be heeded.

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