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Lebanon MPs nominate IMF official for vacant presidency

Jihad Azour, an International Monetary Fund regional director and former minister, has officially been nominated for president
Jihad Azour, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Middle East and Central Asia director, speaks during an interview with AFP at Dubai's International Financial Center on 28 April 2019 (AFP/File photo)

Lebanese lawmakers have nominated Jihad Azour, an International Monetary Fund regional director and former minister, for president, with the position still vacant for seven months because of political turmoil.

Former president Michel Aoun's term expired last October with no successor lined up.

Since then, there have been 11 parliamentary votes to try to name a new president, but bitter divisions have prevented anyone from garnering enough support to succeed Aoun.

Crisis-hit Lebanon has been run by a caretaker government with limited powers since legislative elections in May 2022 resulted in no side with a clear majority.

On Sunday, lawmaker Mark Daou read a statement on behalf of a group of 32 legislators, endorsing Azour after weeks of negotiations "as a candidate that is not considered provocative by any political factor in the country".

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The same MPs had previously backed another presidential candidate, parliamentarian Michel Moawad, who on Sunday announced he was withdrawing his nomination and backing Azour.

Azour, the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia director, served as Lebanon's finance minister from 2005 to 2008.

He has yet to officially announce a presidential bid.

The international community has urged Lebanese officials to fill the vacant presidency, which would allow the country, mired in a crippling economic crisis since 2019, to carry out reforms needed to unlock much needed IMF loans.

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By convention, Lebanon's presidency goes to a Maronite Christian, the premiership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and the post of parliament speaker goes to a Shiite Muslim.

The Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, which has a huge hold over political life in Lebanon, has endorsed the pro-Syria Sleiman Frangieh for the presidency.

But opposition from the country's two main Christian parties meant Frangieh lacked a clear path to majority backing in the divided parliament.

Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah called Azour's nomination "a waste of time", according to remarks carried by local media, insisting that "the candidate of confrontation" will not be elected president.

The Shiite movement's key Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, said it would support Azour.

With no clear majority for any candidate, it is unclear when parliament speaker Nabih Berri might call a new vote.

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