(Bloomberg) -- Several prominent Lebanese political parties are lobbying for the head of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East section to become the crisis-wracked country’s next president.
The two largest Christian groups in parliament, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, have voiced their support for Jihad Azour, who’s the IMF’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia.
It’s unclear if Azour, a Maronite Christian and a former Lebanese finance minister, would want the job. He declined to comment when contacted by Bloomberg on Sunday and referred questions to the IMF, which didn’t immediately respond.
Lebanon’s complex political system means the presidency is usually given to a Christian, while the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.
Horse-trading over the role of president can take months. Whoever gets the job will be hard-pressed to turn around an economy that’s collapsed in recent years.
Inflation has soared to around 270%, the currency’s plunged and the government’s in default on around $30 billion of Eurobonds. In 2021, the World Bank said Lebanon’s financial woes might rank as one of the three most severe anywhere since the mid-nineteenth century.
“Azour is the most acceptable figure from the perspective of multiple parties,” Ghassan Hasbani, a former health minister and Lebanese Forces lawmaker, said to Bloomberg.
Lebanon has been without a president since October of last year, when former President Michel Aoun’s term ended.
The government, headed by billionaire Prime Minister Najib Mikati, reached an agreement with the IMF for a $3 billion bailout last year. But authorities have failed to implement a series of IMF demands — including a restructuring of local lenders — to unlock all the funds.
Azour was Lebanon’s finance minister between 2005 and 2008. Before joining the IMF in March 2017, he was a managing partner at investment firm Inventis Partners.
He’s not universally backed for the role of president. The powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies have endorsed Sleiman Franjieh, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
“We now have two choices: Either a hardcore establishment figure and a Hezbollah ally,” said Hasbani. “Or someone who is professional with an international caliber.”
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