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Lebanese Gov't Fails to Elect President09/29 06:11


   BEIRUT (AP) -- Lebanon's Parliament on Thursday failed to elect a new 
president, with the majority of lawmakers casting blank ballots and some 
walking out.

   Under Lebanon's fragile sectarian power-sharing system, the country's 
128-member parliament votes for a president, who must be a Maronite Christian. 
That's a challenging threshold, and in the context of the country's struggling 
economy and deeply-divided Parliament, Lebanon's unresolved leadership question 
has intensified concerns of government paralysis.

   The six-year term of incumbent President Michel Aoun ends on Oct. 31. He is 
a retired military general and an ally of Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah 
and was elected in October 2016 following a two-year stalemate.

   Aoun's successor is to be elected at a time when Lebanon is going through an 
economic meltdown and the government struggles to implement structural reforms 
required for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

   In recent months, no majority or consensus candidate in Parliament has 
emerged, raising prospects of renewed political paralysis and stalemate similar 
to the one prior to the incumbent president's election.

   Lebanon also has not had full-fledged government since May, and currently 
functions in a limited caretaker capacity under Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

   One hundred twenty-two legislators attended Thursday's session and cast 
their paper ballots into a wooden box in Parliament's assembly hall. Over half 
cast blank ballots, while lawmaker Michel Mouawad, the son of a former 
president and staunch opponent of Hezbollah, received 36 votes.

   The remaining dozens of votes were split between entrepreneur and 
philanthropist Salim Edde and protest votes, including one for Mahsa Amini, the 
22 year-old Iranian woman who died after the Islamic Republic's morality police 
detained her, igniting protests.

   Dozens of lawmakers left after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for a 
recount, breaking the session's required quorum. He did not announce the date 
of a new session.

   Senior Hezbollah legislator Mohammad Raad said the crisis-hit country's 
parliamentary blocs are in the "early stages" of finding a president who would 
"bring stability to the country."

   "The blocs need to discuss and develop an understanding over a possible 
consensus candidate," Raad told the press.

   Independent lawmaker Halime Kaakour, meanwhile, blasted lawmakers for what 
she called a "negative calm with no consensus," fearing a prolonged delay in 
electing a new president.

   "The Constitution says it's the majority of votes," she told reporters. "I 
think it's no longer a logical approach to try to reach a consensus in a 
country that continues to collapse."

   Most candidates who were tipped to be among the frontrunners did not receive 
any votes, most notably Sleiman Frangieh of the Marada Party, an ally of 
Hezbollah who calls Syrian President Bashar Assad a "friend and brother."

   Over the past three years, three-quarters of the tiny Mediterranean nation's 
population slipped into poverty, as the country's infrastructure and public 
institutions continue to crumble. The Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value 
against the dollar, decimating the purchasing power of millions struggling to 
cope with rampant inflation rates.

   Lebanon has been scrambling for over two years to reform its inefficient and 
wasteful economy, combat corruption, and restructure its demolished banking 
sector to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout 
program. The IMF has recently criticized Lebanon for its slow progress.

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