Lebanese President Michel Aoun ended his six-year term on Sunday without the Lebanese parliament having elected his replacement, raising fears that the power vacuum will worsen Lebanon’s catastrophic economic crisis of the past three years.
Not having a president exacerbates the fact that Lebanon is let with a caretaker government, after Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati did not manage to form a new Cabinet after the May 15 parliamentary elections.
Mikati himself received support from 54 of the 128 members of Lebanon’s parliament – including the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group and another main Shiite group in Lebanon, called Amal. Aoun has warned that a caretaker government does not have the legitimacy to run the country and said it will result in “constitutional chaos.”
Lebanon’s parliament has been trying to elect a new president since September, but a presidential nomination requires a candidate to obtain two-thirds of the majority, which none have been able to do. Lebanon operates under a power-sharing agreement, which means that the president has to be a Maronite Christian, the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.
This is not the first time that Lebanon has had problems with electing a president; the country elected Aoun in 2016 after it had been without a president for more than two years.
The difference this time, according to the Associated Press, is “this will be the first time that there will be both no president, and a caretaker Cabinet with limited powers.”
According to Wissam El-Lahham, a constitutional law professor at St. Joseph University in Beirut, the power vacuum will lead mostly to political, and not legal, issues.
Although the constitution “doesn’t say explicitly that the caretaker government can act if there is no president, logically, constitutionally, one should accept that because … the state and institutions should continue to function according to the principle of the continuity of public services,” El-Lahham said.
One particularly worrying issue for many Lebanese is that the provision of approximately $3 billion related the International Monetary Fund, to help the country deal with its spiraling financial crisis, could be delayed without a new president.
Nasser Saidi, an economist and former minister of economy, believes that the chance of being able to secure help from the IMF was “dim” even if a president had been in place. The Lebanese government simply has not met enough of the IMF’s conditions to receive their assistance.
Conditions for IMF support included restructuring Lebanon’s financial sector, implementing fiscal reforms, restructuring external public debt and putting in place strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering measures.
“There is no political will or appetite for undertaking reforms,” Saidi said. “Aoun’s departure is simply another nail in the coffin. It does not change the fundamentals of a dysfunctional, failed state and totally ineffective polity.”
The political crisis left by the power vacuum of Aoun’s departure comes just shortly after Lebanon secured a large victory last week, when it signed a maritime-border deal with Israel that Lebanon hopes will lead to lucrative gas extraction for the cash-strapped state.
Lebanon reportedly hopes that the proceeds from the gas sales will help to haul the country out of the worst financial crisis it has seen in recorded history.