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Lebanon’s top Christian cleric slams failed attempt to elect a president

June 18, 2023 at 11:28 am

Lebanon’s Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rai in the mountain village of Bkerki, northeast of Beirut, Lebanon on February 27, 2021 [Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s top Maronite Christian cleric said on Sunday the country’s constitution and democratic system had been violated in “cold blood” during a failed attempt to elect a new president last week, and warned that divisions in the nation had widened, reports Reuters.

Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai spoke in his first sermon since the Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah and its closest allies thwarted an attempt by factions including the main Christian parties to elect an IMF official as president.

Wednesday’s events marked the 12th time parliament failed to elect someone to the post – reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon’s sectarian system and vacant since the term of the Hezbollah-allied Michel Aoun ended in October.

Lebanon fails again to elect new president amid political deadlock - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Lebanon fails again to elect new president amid political deadlock – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Rai, a critic of the heavily-armed Hezbollah who has repeatedly called for the vacuum to be filled, called Wednesday’s session a “farce”.

Rai has previously voiced criticism of Hezbollah, including in 2021 when it launched rockets at Israel.

The standoff has played out along sectarian lines with Christian parties supporting Jihad Azour, the IMF’s Middle East director and an ex-finance minister, and Shi’ite factions Hezbollah and Amal against him.

Rai said the “wound” of division had widened at a time when unity was needed in a country that has been in financial crisis since 2019.

Rai did not explain what he meant by the violation at the parliamentary session. Azour won votes from 59 of 128 lawmakers, short of the 86 needed to win a first round vote. Suleiman Frangieh, a Hezbollah-backed Christian, got 51.

The Hezbollah-allied Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri ended the session when lawmakers from Hezbollah and its allies withdrew, denying a quorum for a second round when 65 votes are needed to win.

Some pro-Azour lawmakers demanded a recount or a fresh vote after it emerged that a ballot was missing. Berri refused, saying this would not change the result.

Hezbollah and its allies attacked Azour, calling him a candidate for confrontation. Without naming him, Lebanon’s Shi’ite mufti accused Azour of being backed by Israel.

READ: Saudi’s MBS, France’s Macron call for end to Lebanon political vacuum