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The Lebanese president leaves without a replacement, the crisis worsens


BEIRUT — President Michel Aoun left Lebanon’s presidential palace on Sunday marking the end of his six-year term without a replacement, leaving the small nation in a political vacuum that risks deepening its historic economic collapse.

As Aoun’s term ends, the country is led by a caretaker government after Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati failed to form a new cabinet following legislative elections on May 15. Aoun and his supporters warn that such a government does not have full powers to run the country, saying weeks of “constitutional chaos” lie ahead.

In a speech outside the palace, Aoun told thousands of supporters that he had accepted the resignation of Mikati’s government. This decision risks further delegitimizing the interim administration and aggravating existing political tensions in the country.

Lebanese are deeply divided over Aoun, an 87-year-old Maronite Christian and former army commander, with some seeing him as a defender of the country’s Christian community and a figurehead who has tried to seriously tackle corruption in Lebanon . His opponents criticize him for his role in the 1975-1990 civil war and for his shifting alliances, particularly with Iran-backed Hezbollah, the country’s most powerful military and political force. He has also been criticized for grooming his son-in-law to replace him, and many blame him for the economic crisis rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.

Aoun, Lebanon’s 13th president since the country’s independence from France in 1943, has seen Beirut’s historic relations with oil-rich Gulf countries deteriorate due to the powers of Hezbollah and the Islamic State. one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in the world in the port of Beirut in August 2020 which killed more than 200 people. .

Aoun blasted his political opponents and said they had blocked him from bringing to justice central bank governor Riad Salameh, who is under investigation in several European countries, including Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein for allegations of money laundering and embezzlement.

“I am leaving a country that is robbed,” Aoun said, adding that all Lebanese have been hurt by losing their savings in local banks. He added that some politicians have blocked the investigation into the port explosion.

Aoun, who blamed his political rivals and others for the crisis except members of his political party, then left the palace and headed to his residence in Beirut’s northern suburb of Rabieh.

Aoun’s biggest achievement came last week. It has signed a maritime border agreement with Israel, mediated by the United States, which Beirut hopes will lead to gas exploration in the Mediterranean. This will likely help Lebanon emerge from its economic crisis which has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has seen since the 1850s.

Parliament has held four sessions since the end of September to elect a president, but no candidate has been able to obtain the required two-thirds majority of votes. As in previous votes, the parliamentary blocs will have to agree on a consensus candidate for the nation’s top job, as no alliance in the legislature controls the majority seats.

Aoun himself was elected in 2016 after more than two years in a vacuum. Despite Hezbollah’s backing at the time, Aoun was only elected after receiving backing from the bloc of his main rivals the Lebanese Christian Forces Party as well as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s bloc.

According to the power-sharing agreement in Lebanon, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the speaker of parliament a Shiite and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim. Cabinet and government seats are equally divided between Muslims and Christians. Christians, Sunnis and Shiites each represent about a third of Lebanon’s 5 million inhabitants.

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