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Lebanese lawmakers convene in another attempt to elect president, end power vacuum

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese lawmakers convened Wednesday in another attempt to elect a president and break a seven-month power vacuum that has roiled the tiny Mediterranean country.

The meeting comes after 11 previous sessions by the parliament — the last of which was held in January — failed to pick a replacement for President Michel Aoun, an ally of the powerful militant Hezbollah group, whose term ended in late October.

The two main candidates officially in the running are former Cabinet minister Sleiman Frangieh, who is backed by Hezbollah and some of its allies, and Jihad Azour, a former finance minister and senior official with the International Monetary Fund, who is supported by the opposition to Hezbollah and some of its nominal allies.

Azour also has the backing of the country’s largest Christian political parties, the Free Patriotic Movement, which has been allied with Hezbollah since 2006, and the Lebanese Forces party, an opponent to Hezbollah.

Under Lebanon’s complex power-sharing agreement, the country’s president has to be a Maronite Christian, the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim and the prime minister a Sunni.

Azour is also backed by the majority of Druze legislators and some Sunni Muslims, while Shiite members of parliament have overwhelmingly backed Frangieh.

The new president’s most pressing task will be to get this nation of 6 million people, including more than 1 million Syrian refugees, out of an unprecedented economic crisis that began in October 2019. The meltdown is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political class that has ruled Lebanon since the 1975-90 civil war ended.

Clinching a bailout deal with the IMF — Azour’s current employer — is seen as key to Lebanon’s recovery. Azour took a leave of absence from his post as regional director for the organization upon announcing his candidacy.

There will likely be two voting sessions on Wednesday, unless one of the candidates wins a two-third majority in the first session. During the second session, a candidate is elected once he get the simple majority, or at least 65 votes of the 128-member legislature that is equally divided between Christian and Muslims.

Bassem Mroue, The Associated Press

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