The Lebanese president leaves without a replacement, the crisis worsens

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Supporters of Lebanese President Michel Aoun wave a giant Lebanese flag as he delivers a speech outside the presidential palace on Sunday. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — President Michel Aoun left Lebanon’s presidential palace on Sunday, marking the end of his six-year term without a replacement, leaving the tiny nation in a political vacuum that risks deepening its historic economic collapse.

As Aoun’s term ends, the country is led by a caretaker government after Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati failed to form a new cabinet following legislative elections on May 15. Aoun and his supporters warn that such a government does not have full powers to run the country, saying weeks of “constitutional chaos” lie ahead.

In a speech outside the palace, Aoun told thousands of supporters that he had accepted the resignation of Mikati’s government. This decision risks further delegitimizing the interim administration and aggravating existing political tensions in the country.

Mikati responded soon after with a statement from his office saying his government would continue to perform its duties in accordance with the constitution.

Many fear a prolonged power vacuum could further delay attempts to finalize a deal with the International Monetary Fund that would provide Lebanon some $3 billion in aid, widely seen as a key step to help the country emerge. of a three-year financial crisis. which left three quarters of the population in poverty.

Although it will not be the first time that the Lebanese parliament has failed to name a successor at the end of the president’s term, it will be the first time that there will be no president and an interim cabinet in power. limits.

Lebanese are deeply divided over Aoun, an 87-year-old Maronite Christian and former army commander, with some seeing him as a defender of the country’s Christian community and a figurehead who has tried to seriously tackle corruption in Lebanon . His opponents criticize him for his role in the 1975-1990 civil war and for his shifting alliances, particularly with Iran-backed Hezbollah, the country’s most powerful military and political force. He has also been criticized for grooming his son-in-law to replace him, and many blame him for the economic crisis rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.

Aoun, Lebanon’s 13th president since the country’s independence from France in 1943, has seen Beirut’s historic relations with oil-rich Gulf countries deteriorate due to the powers of Hezbollah and the Islamic State. one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in the world in the port of Beirut in August 2020 which killed more than 200 people. .

Since the economic collapse began with nationwide protests in October 2019, the Lebanese political class – which has ruled since the end of the civil war – has resisted reforms demanded by the international community that could help secure billions of dollars in loans and investments.

Talks between the Lebanese government and the IMF, which began in May 2020 and culminated in a services-level agreement in April, have made very little progress.

The Lebanese government has implemented some of the IMF requirements of the agreement, which are mandatory before finalizing a rescue package. Among them are the restructuring of the ailing Lebanese financial sector, the implementation of tax reforms, the restructuring of external public debt and the establishment of strong anti-corruption and anti-money laundering measures.

“The prospects for an agreement with the IMF were already dim before the next power vacuum and the departure of Aoun,” said Nasser Saidi, an economist and former economy minister. “There is no political will or appetite to undertake reforms.”

“Aoun’s departure is just another nail in the coffin,” he said. “It doesn’t change the fundamentals of a dysfunctional failed state and utterly ineffective politics.”

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