The Lebanese opposition appears on the verge of reaching an agreement on the nomination of Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund and former minister Jihad Azour as president.
With an agreement in sight, the opposition will then shift its focus on pressuring parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to call the legislature to session to hold the presidential elections as soon as possible.
Berri said months ago that he would only call for an elections session if political parties are in consensus over the names of candidates.
Representatives of the opposition met on Thursday to back Azour’s nomination. The Free Patriotic Movement had expressed its support for his candidacy, in spite of some dissenting voices in the party.
Representatives of the FPM were notably absent from Thursday’s meeting, which included figures from the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb party, Renewal bloc and several Change MPs.
They met to set the “appropriate mechanisms that would yield an agreement on the presidency between them and other blocs” in order to end the vacuum in the country’s top post and save Lebanon from its crisis, read a statement.
The country has been without a president since late October. Eleven elections sessions have been held, but no candidate garnered enough votes to be named winner given the disagreements between the political parties.
Sources from the Lebanese Forces told Asharq Al-Awsat that after the opposition, with the FPM, completes the main phase of agreeing on a candidate, they would shift their focus on pressuring Berri to hold the elections.
“It is now time for Berri to call for an electoral session. The excuses that they have used to impede the polls are no more,” they continued.
“The opposition will put in place a plan to make sure the elections are held, especially since we are convinced that Azour has a high chance of winning against [Marada movement leader] Suleiman Franjieh,” they stated.
Franjieh’s candidacy is backed by the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal movement. They have opposed Azour, saying he would be a “defiant candidate.”
In remarks to local radio, LF MP Fadi Karam revealed the opposition “is holding daily meetings to discuss the way to adopt Azour’s nomination.” The announcement, expected within days, is being coordinated with the FPM so that “we would act as one cohesive team in the presidential battle and to pressure Berri.”
“Berri is aware that it is in the country’s interest to call for an electoral session, significantly since there are two candidates and all parties are now ready to hold the polls,” he added.
Azour can secure more than 65 votes, he predicted.
A candidate needs the votes of two-thirds of lawmakers to make it to the second round of the elections. In the second round, he needs 65 votes from the 128-member legislature to be declared the victor.
LF MP George Okais said Azour was not a “defiant” candidate. The Shiite duo “needs to define what they perceive as defiant,” he added.
The National Moderation bloc, Progressive Socialist Party and several independent MPs have yet to announce their position from Azour’s nomination.