While Lebanon is sinking day by day into a serious economic crisis, and the term of office of President Michel Aoun expires on October 31, the deputies started the process aimed at electing his successor on September 29. Given the divisions that reign within the Parliament, it is foreseeable that the political showdown around this post reserved for Maronite Christians will drag on. During the last presidential elections, the land of cedars went without a president for 29 months.
The series of bank robberies committed by Lebanese savers trying to recover their frozen savings for three years, which has attracted the attention of foreign media in recent weeks, has overshadowed the presidential elections currently underway in Lebanon.
The non-renewable six-year term of the current president, former general Michel Aoun, expired on October 31, the process began on September 29 in Parliament – where the 128 deputies have the constitutional power to elect the head of state – to replace him. The ballot takes place by secret ballot and the President of the Republic is elected by a two-thirds majority in the first round and by an absolute majority in the following rounds.
Not surprisingly, the first parliamentary session was not fruitful. Faced with the divisions that reign within the political class, no consensus has yet been found to choose Michel Aoun’s successor. The latter is so polarized that it is already completely unable to agree to form a new government, to replace the one currently led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in charge of dealing with current affairs since May 22, the date of commencement of the mandate of the new Parliament …
“A formal exercise“
The majority of the 122 votes cast on 29 September were therefore white (63 votes, including that of the current power composed of officials elected by Hezbollah and Michel Aoun’s party), while Michel Moawad, a Maronite deputy and son of President René Moawad in the 1989 got 36 votes in the ranks of the opposition.
It should be noted that an entry was dedicated to Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian woman who died last September 16 in Tehran, after being arrested by the police of morality for wearing the veil incorrectly, and whose death sparked the protest movement. in courses in Iran.
At the end of this first electoral session, defined by the French-speaking newspaper L’Orient-le-Jour “as a purely formal exercise”, the President of the Parliament Nabih Berri closed the session: the parliamentarians had withdrawn from the Chamber causing the quorum to fail . The new session, scheduled for Thursday 13 October, will certainly lead to the same result.
According to the Constitution, if the election does not take place in the last ten days of the mandate of the president in office, the Parliament can no longer legislate because it is obliged to hold only presidential sessions.
Already confronted daily with the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, the Lebanese know that the presidential process can last a long time.
Very long too. Due to a lack of agreement between the different political camps and political blocs, they had endured 29 months of institutional vacuum after the end of the mandate of former president Michel Sleiman on 25 May 2014.
At the time, it was only with the 46th electoral session and the interminable negotiations that the quorum of two-thirds necessary to organize the vote was reached – that is 86 of the 128 deputies – and that Michel Aoun, the political ally of Hezbollah pro Iranian, to be elected on 31 October 2016.
Place reserved for Maronite Christians
The Taif Accords, signed in 1989 in Saudi Arabia with the aim of ending fifteen years of war in Lebanon, have transferred executive power to the Council of Ministers, the prerogatives of the president are limited.
For example, in matters of defense, the Head of State is in fact designated as commander of the armed forces, but these remain “subject to the Council of Ministers” according to the texts that have sanctioned the principle of confessional and consociative democracy – that is, a political model based on the need to share power between different communities.
Officially the Lebanese state has 18: Christians (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Greek-Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Coptic Orthodox, Apostolic Armenians, Armenians Catholics, Latin and Protestants), Muslims (Shiites , Druze, Sunni, Ismaili and Alawites) as well as a Jewish community.
The formal representation of these religious communities in the Lebanese state (official and administrative functions) is organized according to the National Pact of 1943, the year of the country’s independence. Sealed at the time between the country’s Maronite and Sunni leaders, this unwritten pact provides that the President of the Republic and the head of the army are always Christians – Maronites in fact – while the Prime Minister is Sunni and that the President of Parliament is a member of the Shia community.
From Taif, the 128 seats of deputies were distributed equally between Muslims and Christians, and within these two confessional blocs the number of those elected is fixed according to the demographic weight of their community (the Shiites have 27, the Maronites 34 ), established by the last census carried out … in 1932.
Established to promote consensus, the system has over the years been hijacked by the heavyweights of the political class, against whom the population rose in 2019, who multiplied political blocs and erected political bargaining as a mode of government.
During the election of Michel Aoun, a camp, that of the former general and of Hezbollah, his political ally, was thus able to impose its candidate after blocking the presidential elections for a long time. Six years later, this same party, which however lost its majority during the last legislative elections, is trying to promote the rise to power of the outgoing president’s son-in-law, former foreign minister Gebran Basil. His divisive profile is far from unanimous in Lebanon.
It is therefore likely that a new tug-of-war will begin which will extend the time to agree on a compromise candidate to unblock the current situation. While more than 80% of the population lives below the poverty line according to the NGO Care, the Lebanese, more than ever, need their institutions to operate at full capacity.