Understanding Lebanon’s Persistent Presidential Vacancy Crisis – The Arab Wall
Understanding Lebanon’s Persistent Presidential Vacancy Crisis

Understanding Lebanon’s Persistent Presidential Vacancy Crisis

The ongoing presidential vacancy crisis in Lebanon stems from a range of political issues, all converging around the challenge of achieving consensus, which is essential for the smooth transfer of power from one president to the next. This crisis is deeply rooted in the structure of the Lebanese political system and arises from deviations from the constitution. The vacant presidency reflects a web of interconnected factors, including failure to adhere to the Lebanese constitution’s articles, difficulties arising from the current parliamentary composition, and the concept of the “blocking third.” Moreover, political blocs’ boycott of sessions further complicates matters by obstructing the election of a president who doesn’t align with their political agenda. Additionally, the persistent discord between the opposition and the resistance complicates the selection of a president for the republic.

Multiple Reasons

Despite the positive reception of the initiative launched by the “National Moderation” bloc to break the ongoing deadlock in the presidential election process – an initiative notably supported by Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi on March 10th – the reality suggests that the situation is unlikely to change. Lebanon continues to grapple with a presidential vacancy due to disagreements between the “opposition” and the “resistance” factions regarding a consensus candidate.

Moreover, political discord and division persist over the resistance candidate, Suleiman Frangieh, head of the “Marada” Movement, and his competitor, former minister Jihad Azour, who represents the opposition. This disagreement effectively blocks what is locally termed as the “third presidential option.” Consequently, Lebanon finds itself in the familiar scenario of a presidential vacancy for the fourth time since gaining independence in 1943. The Lebanese parliament has failed 13 times to elect a president since the end of President Michel Aoun’s term on October 31, 2022.

Several interrelated factors contribute to the prolonged presidential vacancy crisis, which has persisted for over 16 months since the conclusion of President Michel Aoun’s term. The most significant of these factors include:

1. Non-compliance with the Constitution: Throughout the duration of the presidential vacancy, Lebanon appears to be in a state of constitutional upheaval, with a disregard for its articles and principles. Despite Article 49 of the Constitution outlining a single election session with consecutive rounds, this procedure has been circumvented by “closing the minutes” of each election session due to the inability of political blocs within parliament to reach a consensus on a presidential candidate. This defiance of the Constitution extends beyond the parliament to other branches of government. According to the Constitution, during a presidential vacancy, the government assumes the president’s powers. However, the current government’s authority is compromised as it is considered “resigned” since the parliamentary election on May 20, 2022.

2. Problematic Political Composition of Parliament: Despite the Constitution stipulating that the President must be “elected by secret ballot by a two-thirds majority of Parliament in the first round, and an absolute majority suffices in subsequent rounds,” the current makeup of the parliament presents a significant obstacle. No single political force or bloc possesses the requisite absolute or influential majority to meet the presidential election threshold. Consequently, no political bloc has been able to secure the presidency for its preferred candidate without forging a consensus with other parliamentary factions. As a result, over the past 16 months, the parliament has repeatedly failed to elect a president due to the inability to garner sufficient votes for any candidate and the persistent failure of political parties to agree on a “compromise candidate,” as has occurred multiple times in the past.

3. Restrictions of the “Blocking Third” and Session Boycotts: One of the primary factors impeding the Parliament’s ability to select a presidential candidate is the concept of the “blocking third,” which disrupts the electoral process through session boycotts. It appears that certain political forces and blocs within the Parliament, driven by their political differences, persist in using this concept to prevent the attainment of the legal quorum, thereby obstructing the election of a president.

Adding to the obstructive nature of the “blocking third” and session boycotts is the practice of voting with a “blank ballot.” This mechanism has been employed in 13 sessions by the Shia duo of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, along with other Members of Parliament, to obscure the true number of votes for their preferred candidate, Suleiman Frangieh.

4. Resistance Rejection of the “Third Presidential Option”: The resistance bloc, represented by the Shia duo, remains steadfast in their support for Suleiman Frangieh’s nomination and shows no inclination to abandon this stance. This translates to a rejection of any proposal for what is commonly referred to in Lebanon as the “third presidential option.” It’s worth noting that Hezbollah, in particular, reportedly harbors several concerns, as circulated by some local Lebanese media outlets, prompting efforts to undermine the “Moderation Bloc” initiative aimed at fulfilling Lebanon’s crucial need for a president. This is evident in the resistance to this initiative despite its backing from what is known as the “Quintet” – comprising the United States, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. The party fears the prospect of electing a president who does not align with their resistance ideology.

5. Opposition’s Rejection of the Shia Duo’s Candidate: Despite the agreement among the Shia duo and their allies to support Suleiman Frangieh as the candidate representing the “March 8 Alliance,” opposition emerges from the so-called “opposition” bloc, primarily led by the Free Patriotic Movement under Gebran Bassil’s leadership. This opposition gains further traction among the Lebanese Christian majority, including the Lebanese Forces Party led by Samir Geagea. It stems from their reluctance to repeat the experience of former Lebanese President Michel Aoun, given Suleiman Frangieh’s regional alliances, particularly his alignment with Iran and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A Controversial Issue

In this context, it is evident that the issue of the presidential vacancy in Lebanon remains highly contentious and is likely to persist until a consensus is reached on the 14th occupant of this position in the country’s history. However, achieving this consensus is challenging, given the Parliament’s requirement for the votes of 65 members to elect a new president following President Michel Aoun’s term. The ongoing differences between political forces and blocs within the Parliament regarding the election of a presidential candidate or agreement on a compromise candidate, often referred to as a “third option,” further complicate the matter. Without such consensus, the vacancy will continue, as has occurred numerous times in Lebanon’s history since its establishment in the 1940s.