Lebanon’s Christian cleric denounces the failure of the attempt to elect a president

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Christian religious leader said on Sunday the constitution and democratic system had been violated in “cold blood” during a failed bid to elect a new president last week, and warned that divisions in the country had widened.

Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai delivered his first sermon since the Iran-backed Shia group Hezbollah and its closest allies thwarted an attempt by factions, including major Christian parties, to elect an IMF official to the Presidency.

Wednesday’s events marked the 12th time parliament has failed to elect someone to the post – reserved for a Maronite Christian in Lebanon’s sectarian system and vacant since Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun’s term in office ended in october.

Rai, a heavily armed Hezbollah critic, called Wednesday’s session a “farce”.

Rai has criticized Hezbollah before, including in 2021 when it launched rockets into Israel.

The stalemate unfolded along sectarian lines with Christian parties supporting Jihad Azour, the IMF’s Middle East director and former finance minister, and the Shiite factions Hezbollah and Amal against him.

Rai said the “wound” of division had deepened at a time when unity was needed in Lebanon, which has been mired in a financial crisis since 2019.

Rai did not explain what he meant by the violation during the parliamentary session. Azour won the votes of 59 of 128 lawmakers, short of the 86 needed to win a first-round vote. Suleiman Frangieh, a Hezbollah-backed Christian, got 51.

Hezbollah-allied parliament speaker Nabih Berri ended the session when Hezbollah and its allies pulled out, denying a quorum for a run-off when 65 votes are needed to win.

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi, in his Sunday sermon, criticized Hezbollah and its allies without naming them, saying those who withdrew seemed “disinterested” in Lebanon.

Some pro-Azour lawmakers demanded a recount or re-vote after it emerged that a ballot was missing. Berri declined, saying it wouldn’t change the outcome.

Hezbollah and its allies attacked Azour, calling it a candidate for confrontation. Without naming him, the Shiite mufti of Lebanon accused him of being supported by Israel.

(Reporting by Maya GebeilyWriting by Tom PerryEditing by Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry)

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