| 16 April 2024, Tuesday |

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

Lebanon’s top Christian clergyman said on Sunday that the constitution and democratic system had been violated in “cold blood” during a failed attempt to elect a new president last week, and that divides in the country had grown.

Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai delivered his first sermon since the Iran-backed Shi’ite party Hezbollah and its closest allies defeated an attempt by factions comprising the main Christian parties to nominate 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.

Rai, a critic of the heavily-armed Hezbollah, 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 Lebanon, which has been mired in a 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 Hezbollah and its allies withdrew, denying a quorum for a second round when 65 votes are needed to win.

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi, in his Sunday sermon, criticised Hezbollah and its allies without naming them, saying those who withdrew appeared “uninterested” in Lebanon.

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 of confrontation. Without naming him, Lebanon’s Shi’ite mufti accused him of being backed by Israel.

  • Reuters