In the midst of an economic stagnation, Lebanon could soon have to face a situation of power vacuum, as President Michel Aoun’s mandate expires on October 31 and the political class has not yet agreed on who should succeed him.
This perspective has generated concern in the international community, and even more so considering that the country will be governed by an Executive in charge solely of managing day-to-day affairs, since political divergences have prevented the formation of a new cabinet since the legislative last spring.
On Monday, Parliament met for the fourth time in a month but failed to elect a president. Neither the side of Hezbollah, the powerful pro-Iranian armed movement that dominates political life in Lebanon, nor that of its opponents have a majority that would allow them to impose a candidate.
“The most likely scenario after Aoun’s term ends is one of a prolonged presidential vacuum until the Lebanese political parties agree on a candidate,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House cabinet.
“As in 2016, Hezbollah will insist on imposing a candidate,” he added.
On previous occasions, the election of a president in Lebanon has already led to violent episodes and political crises, in a country based on a communal division of power. The presidency of the Republic is reserved for a Maronite Christian.
How has Michel Aoun’s term in Lebanon been?
According to some analysts, the current crisis is mainly due to Hezbollah’s refusal to hold elections that would not lead to its presidential candidate, as happened when its ally Michel Aoun was elected.
Back then, it took more than two years and 46 electoral sessions for Aoun to be elected, in 2016. His term has been marked by an unprecedented economic collapse, a popular uprising in 2019 and the Beirut port explosion that devastated the capital in the summer of 2020.
But this time, Hezbollah has not said which is its favorite candidate and, so far, its deputies have voted blank in Parliament. According to some analysts, the movement’s favorite candidate would be former minister and deputy Sleimane Frangié, an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.
Consulted by AFP, a source close to the Shiite party said, however, that the latter’s candidacy “runs into opposition from Saudi Arabia” and Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of President Aoun and head of the Free Patriotic Current (CPL), who also aspires to the presidency.
At the moment, the candidate who has received the most votes is Michel Moawad, who obtained 39 votes on Monday, although he is still short of the 65 necessary to be elected by a simple majority.
Moawad, close to Washington, does not have the support of Hezbollah.
According to Elias Hankache, from the Christian party of the Kataeb – supporters of Moawad -, with their attitude, Hezbollah and its allies are “systematically obstructing” the election process.
For him, it is “unacceptable” that the pro-Iran party and its allies are “betting on a power vacuum” in order to later impose their candidate, as in 2016.
This time, the prospect of a political vacuum occurs in the midst of an accelerated economic collapse, with a government in office that does not have the necessary powers to impose the reforms required to unblock international aid.
Since 2019, Lebanon has been mired in a serious financial crisis. Its currency has lost more than 95% of its value and more than 80% of the inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to the UN.
According to the director of the Levante Institute for Strategic Affairs, Sami Nader, if an agreement is not reached to appoint a candidate, “foreign interference or pressure could be needed”, as has happened in the country before.