Lebanon: Christian parties choose candidate in bid to break deadlock

Lebanon: Christian parties choose candidate in bid to break deadlock
Amid a catastrophic financial crisis and political instability at all levels of governance, Lebanon's major Christian parties have picked Jihad Azour as a candidate who they think could break Lebanon's crippling presidential impasse
3 min read
29 May, 2023
Members of the Parliament of Lebanon have failed to elect a president 11 times in almost 8 months [Getty]

Lebanon’s largest Christian parliamentary parties have reached a consensus on a candidate fit to break the country’s near eight-month deadlock on picking a new president, The New Arab's Arabic-language service reported on Sunday.

The Lebanese Forces, Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Phalanges Party have apparently settled on Jihad Azour as a likely candidate. Azour, 57, is a former finance minister and currently heads the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This comes ahead of a June 15 deadline for parliament to pick the next president set by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. 

He is widely considered to be a technocrat who could help usher in the economic stability Lebanon needs as the country faces the worst financial crises in its history.

Live Story

Azour told Lebanese media that he “wants to be the president who carries a rescue project for the country with the approval of everyone.”

In Lebanon’s confessional democracy, the president must be Christian, while they also must secure a majority of two-thirds of the deeply divided parliament – 86 members –to be named president in the first round of voting. 

If a majority isn’t secured in the first round, an outright majority must be secured in subsequent rounds.  All attempts to elect a president so far have been blocked by Hezbollah and its allies, who have left the room upon the second round of voting. 

However, almost as quickly as Azour’s name was mentioned, Hezbollah, Amal and their allied political coalition the “Loyal to the Resistance” bloc, who prefer Sleiman Frangieh of the Marada Movement as president, were out to denounce the idea.

Live Story

Speaking to The New Arab’s Arabic sister outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, Hezbollah MP Rami Abou Hamdan said Azour was a “challenging candidate” who is being used by the blocs to simply prevent their candidate Frangieh from succeeding. 

Hamdan said that it was not a personal attack on Azour, but rather the blocs who represent him, accusing them of not wanting “dialogue” but the “cancellation” of their candidate. 

The leader of the Loyalty to Resistance bloc, Hezbollah MP Mohamed Raad, echoed Hamdan but slightly less diplomatically, claiming those who would support Azour over Frangieh seek to “partition the country”.

Frangieh is seen to be supported by Hezbollah primarily due to their mutual strong support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. 

Other analysts say the impasse is due to foreign interference.  The pro-Hezbollah alliance is strongly backed by Iran, while the pro-Christian forces are seen to be more supportive of Saudi Arabia's regional agenda.  As Iran and Saudi continue talks regarding the restoration of diplomatic ties, some see the deadlock in Lebanon as resulting from a tug-of-war as both foreign powers seek to impose hegemony over the country.