Lebanon fails to elect president for third time amid financial meltdown

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun addresses the nation from the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 13, 2022. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's parliament failed to elect a president for the third time on Thursday, bringing the country closer to institutional deadlock amid a deep financial crisis.

Outgoing President Michel Aoun's term ends on Oct. 31 and divisions remain among political blocs over the makeup of a new cabinet.

Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since May. The presidency has fallen vacant several times since the 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanon's financial meltdown has sunk the currency by more than 90%, spread poverty, paralysed the financial system and frozen depositors out of their savings in the most destabilising crisis since the country's civil war.

A total of 119 of 128 parliamentarian convened for half an hour on Thursday. The election rules require a two-thirds quorum, meaning no one party or alliance can impose its choice.

A first round requires two-thirds of votes to win. If that fails, an absolute majority of votes is enough.

Thursday's session saw 55 blank votes, 42 for anti-Hezbollah lawmaker Michel Mouawad and the rest of the ballots including scattered votes for political slogans. One vote was for a "benevolent dictator".

Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri has set the next session for Oct. 24.

Anticipating another vacuum at the top, politicians have stepped up efforts to agree on a new cabinet led by Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Najib Mikati - who is currently serving in a caretaker capacity - to which presidential powers could pass.

That could leave the country with no president and a caretaker cabinet.

Foreign powers including the United States and European Union have urged timely presidential elections.

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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