The United States on Monday called on Lebanon’s parliament to elect a new president, as the country marks six months without a leader at the helm amid grinding political and economic turmoil.
“The United States calls on Lebanon’s political leadership to move expeditiously to elect a president to unite the country and swiftly enact the reforms needed to rescue its economy from crisis,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
“Lebanon’s leaders must not put their personal interests and ambitions above the interests of their country and people.”
A caretaker cabinet with limited powers has been at the helm since May last year after legislative polls gave no side a clear majority.
Former president Michel Aoun’s term then expired in October, with no successor lined up. Numerous parliamentary votes have been held since, but no candidate has garnered enough support to succeed Aoun.
The Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, which holds huge sway over political life in Lebanon, has endorsed pro-Syrian Sleiman Frangieh for the presidency.
In November, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group wanted whoever is selected as Lebanon’s next president to “reassure” the group and stand up to the United States, as Hezbollah’s members in government cast blank ballots during voting.
Iran’s foreign minister last week also called for the country to overcome its political deadlock and elect a president.
Countries including France, the United States and Saudi Arabia hold regular consultations on Lebanon. Their representatives met in February in Paris to discuss the crisis, without achieving any tangible progress.
“The United States believes Lebanon needs a president free of corruption who can unite the country... and implement critical economic reforms, chief among them those required to secure an International Monetary Fund (IMF) program,” Miller said.
“The answers to Lebanon’s political and economic crises can only come from within Lebanon, and not the international community.”
Bou Saab in Bkirki
For his part, Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab urged Tuesday for "dialogue" between various parties to end Lebanon's presidential vacuum.
Bou Saab's comments Tuesday came after a meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai in Bkirki. The deputy Parliament speaker added that he was dissatisfied with the deadlock surrounding electing a new president.
"Dialogue is essential," insisted Bou Saab Tuesday, the latest in a series of meetings this past week with political actors across Lebanon.
Bou Saab said the meetings were not held from a "partisan perspective, but rather in [his] capacity as deputy Parliament speaker."
"I felt the patriarch's displeasure with the situation we have reached. The officials who dealt with this issue have not shown interest in the time factor, which greatly disturbs the patriarch," he said in a statement.
"We have not yet begun to discuss names of presidential candidates because the parties have not managed to support a common candidate following the initiative launched by the patriarch," Bou Saab added.
In early April, Rai convened more than 50 Christian MPs in a "spiritual" day in Harissa north of Beirut and asked them about their efforts "to facilitate the election of a president.”
Bou Saab also met in recent days with the head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc Mohammad Raad. He is expected to meet Tuesday afternoon with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea at that party's headquarters in Maarab.
Lebanon has been mired in an economic crisis since a 2019 financial meltdown, punctuated by political deadlock.