BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese parliamentarians failed on Monday in their sixth attempt to elect a new president, extending the political vacuum that emerged when former President Michel Suleiman’s term ended two weeks ago.
The deadlock comes as the spillover from neighboring Syria’s civil war has deepened Lebanon’s own longstanding divisions.
Politicians from the March 8 coalition, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, boycotted Monday’s parliamentary session, depriving it of a quorum.
Even if sufficient parliamentarians showed up to vote it is unlikely a single candidate could win a clear majority. But the rival March 14 coalition, which supports Assad’s opponents in the Syrian conflict, laid the blame for the impasse with March 8.
The boycott “is exposing the institutions and the country to danger and endangering political stability,” Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said outside parliament. “They (March 8) surely bear responsibility.”
Speaker Nabih Berri said parliament would meet again on June 18 for another attempt to break the deadlock. However without agreement between regional powerbrokers Saudi Arabia and Iran, who support March 14 and March 8 respectively, there is little prospect of agreement on a consensus candidate.
Political power in Lebanon is divided among religious communities, with the presidency allocated to a Maronite Christian, the parliament speaker’s post to a Shi‘ite Muslim and the prime minister’s to a Sunni Muslim. Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government has taken over some presidential duties in the interim.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who made a brief visit to Lebanon last week, said the deadlock was deeply troubling.
Central Bank governor Riad Salameh said on Monday it would also affect Lebanon’s economy, already struggling to cope with falling tourism revenues and the burden of hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees, around a quarter of Lebanon’s population.
“This (presidential) vacancy and its impact on the other constitutional institutions will affect confidence and economic growth,” he told a conference in Beirut.
Reporting by Tara Carmichael; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Roche