BEIRUT — The United States warned on Monday of the deteriorating situation in Lebanon and urged the Lebanese parliament to swiftly elect a president who is “free of corruption” to unite the country.
In a press statement, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller called on the political leadership “to move expeditiously to elect a president” and “swiftly enact the reforms needed to rescue its economy from crisis.”
Washington is not involved in the name game of the future president in Lebanon but is emphasizing that any candidate should be "free of corruption", an endemic that has plagued the political elite in Beirut and drove the country to bankruptcy.
“The United States believes Lebanon needs a president free of corruption who can unite the country, advocate for transparency and accountability, put the interests of Lebanon’s people first, move towards national unity and implement critical economic reforms, chief among them those required to secure an International Monetary Fund program,” Miller said in his statement.
“The answers to Lebanon’s political and economic crises can only come from within Lebanon, and not the international community,” he added. France, Saudi Arabia, Iran and others have been involved in talks around the nomination process.
Lebanon has been without a president since President Michel Aoun’s term expired in October 2022. Parliament has failed to vote for a president in 12 sessions amid deep political divisions between a bloc led by the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its opponents that are struggling to form a united front.
Hezbollah is pushing for the election of Suleiman Frangieh, a close friend of the Assad family in Syria, while other parties including the Christian Lebanese Forces and Kataeb are vehemently opposed to him. International and regional efforts to bridge the gap have failed to bring about a solution.
Meanwhile, the country’s corrupt political elite that has been unable to address the economic collapse. Lebanon received a low score of 24/100 on Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index. Following the nationwide protests in October 2019, the government launched several measures to fight corruption, one of the main demands of international donors for any rescue package. In 2020, the government adopted the National Anti-Corruption Strategy to promote transparency and accountability. Its implementation, however, has stalled due to the ongoing political crisis.
Last April, Lebanon secured a draft staff-level agreement from the International Monetary Fund to provide the cash-strapped country with around $3 billion in aid. But the world financing body has stressed that urgent reforms are required for the approval of the agreement. Among those reforms, Lebanon must restructure the financial sector, introduce fiscal reforms and fight corruption and money laundering.