Lebanon presidential nominee temporarily steps away from IMF role

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International Monetary Fund official Jihad Azour, who has been nominated for the long-vacant Lebanese presidency, has “temporarily relinquished” his responsibilities at the lender, an official at the body said Thursday.

“In order to avoid any perception of conflict of interest, the director of the Middle East and Central Asia department has temporarily relinquished his responsibilities at the IMF,” said the organization’s director of strategic communications Julie Kozack, referring to Azour.

“He is on leave,” she added.

Azour, who served as Lebanon’s finance minister from 2005 to 2008, has yet to officially announce a presidential bid.

Lebanon, mired in a crippling economic crisis since late 2019, has been without a president for more than seven months, and has been run by a caretaker government since May last year.

The international community has urged Lebanese officials to avoid a prolonged presidential vacuum and enact key reforms required to unlock much-needed IMF loans.

Lawmakers have made 11 failed attempts to elect a new head of state, as bitter divisions prevent any single candidate from garnering enough support.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has scheduled a new vote on the presidency for next week.

On Sunday, a group of 32 Christian and independent legislators endorsed Azour after weeks of negotiations.

By convention, Lebanon’s presidency goes to a Maronite Christian, the premiership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and the post of parliament speaker goes to a Shiite Muslim.

The Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, which holds huge sway over political life in Lebanon, has instead endorsed the pro-Syria Sleiman Frangieh.

On Thursday, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc renewed its support for Frangieh, saying in a statement that it considered him “a natural candidate who is reassuring for a large segment of Lebanon.”

The Shiite movement’s key Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, has said it would support Azour.

French President Emmanuel Macron this week named his former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as his personal envoy for Lebanon, in a new bid to end the country’s political crisis.

Last month, the United States urged Lebanese politicians to elect a new president “to unite the country” and swiftly enact reforms.

“Lebanon’s leaders must not put their personal interests and ambitions above the interests of their country and people,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

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