Christian parliamentary blocs in Lebanon announced on Tuesday that they have agreed upon a presidential candidate. The nation has been devoid of a president since last October, following the exit of Michel Aoun from the office. Polarisation within the parliament has caused a protracted stalemate, preventing consensus on a successor.
“An accord around a contender between the FPM and the opposition is in place,” stated Gebran Bassil, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader, during a Tuesday interview with Kuwaiti press. The opposition encompasses the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb party, and a group of independent MPs identified for their resistance to Hezbollah.
While Bassil did not disclose the candidate’s identity, rumours suggest that Jihad Azour, an ex-Finance Minister and current Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund, has risen to the fore.
The FPM, known for its historical alliance with Hezbollah, has traditionally rivalled the Lebanese Forces. Recent moves, however, indicate a growing distance from the Iran-backed party and its associate, the Amal Movement, which backs a different presidential nominee, Sleiman Frangieh.
Frangieh’s Marada Party is reportedly a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. Bassil commented that, while communication with Hezbollah continues, there is no immediate meeting planned. In Lebanon’s sectarian political landscape, such negotiations are crucial for presidential elections, with intricate bargaining between allies and rivals dictating candidate selection.
Significant progress appeared uncertain after Bassil dismissed the prior opposition candidate, Michel Moawad, with no clear consensus on an appropriate nominee. This recent announcement marks an essential milestone, hinting at potential cooperation between the rival parties.
Nonetheless, the schedule for the subsequent parliamentary session to elect a president remains undetermined. Parliament Speaker and Amal leader Nabih Berri has opted against convening a session, citing a likely continuation of the futile election attempts – a pattern seen 12 times in a row.
Lebanon’s most substantial Christian parliamentary parties appear to have united behind Jihad Azour as a potential candidate to end the eight-month impasse on choosing a new president. With a June 15 deadline set by Speaker Nabih Berri for parliament to select the next president, Azour is considered a capable candidate to usher in Lebanon’s much-needed economic stability.
However, as Azour’s name emerged as a potential candidate, the Hezbollah, Amal, and their political coalition, the “Loyal to the Resistance” bloc, who prefer Sleiman Frangieh of the Marada Movement as president, have promptly denounced the proposition.
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