Lebanon’s divided parliament fails for sixth time to elect president

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Lebanese lawmakers failed for a sixth time Thursday to elect a successor to former president Michel Aoun, whose mandate expired last month, highlighting deep divisions in the crisis-hit country.

Parliament is split between supporters of Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its opponents, neither of whom have a clear majority.

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Lawmaker Michel Moawad, who is seen as close to the United States, won the support of 43 of parliament’s 128 MPs.

But his tally was outnumbered by the 45 blank ballots cast by pro-Hezbollah lawmakers and fell well short of the margin needed for victory.

“It’s a complete deadlock,” independent lawmaker Mark Daou told AFP. “We will not have a president before next year.”

In each of the six sessions convened to elect a new president so far, the pro-Hezbollah bloc has walked out before lawmakers could hold a second round of voting which would have reduced the number of ballots needed for victory from 86 to 65.

Lawmaker Ali Hassan Khalil of the Hezbollah-allied Amal movement said the bloc had adopted the tactic because it was “impossible to elect a president without a consensus among lawmakers.”

Moawad’s candidacy is opposed by Hezbollah, whose leader Hassan Nasrallah called last week for a president ready to stand up to the United States.

There have been delays in electing previous Lebanese presidents.

Aoun’s own election in 2016 followed a more than two-year vacancy at the presidential palace as lawmakers made 45 failed attempts before reaching a consensus on his candidacy.

But this year’s vacancy comes as Lebanon is mired in an economic crisis that the World Bank has dubbed one of the worst in recent history.

The country has also had only a caretaker government since May despite calls from international creditors for sweeping reforms to clear the way for the release of billions of dollars in emergency loans.

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