Lebanese lawmaker Firas Hamdan with lawmakers Najat Saliba, Halime Al Kaakour and others during a sit-in at the Lebanese parliament to pile pressure on dominant factions to elect a new president, in Beirut, Lebanon January 20, 2023. Image Credit: AP

BEIRUT: Two independent Lebanese lawmakers have spent the night in parliament to press for the election of a new president, as factional deadlock leaves the country largely leaderless amid a deepening economic crisis.

“We slept here, and we hope that today will bring new hope to Lebanon,” said lawmaker Najat Saliba in a video posted on social media on Friday.

Fellow MP Melhem Khalaf said it was urgent to elect a president “who can save Lebanon”, in an online message posted the night before.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since Michel Aoun left office at the end of October, while the government is operating in a caretaker capacity.

The Lebanese pound plunged to a new low against the US dollar Thursday as parliament failed for an 11th time to agree on a new president, amid squabbling between supporters and opponents of powerful Shiite militant group and political movement Hezbollah.

Khalaf in his message said the sit-in aimed to push parliament to hold “continuous sessions” to elect a new head of state.

“We will not leave,” the former Beirut Bar Association chief had told reporters on Thursday.

He and Saliba were elected in 2022 on the back of protests three years ago against the factional elite which has dominated Lebanese politics since the 1975-1990 civil war and which is widely blamed for the country’s economic woes.

Several other independent lawmakers visited the pair in the evening, while journalists were not authorised to enter the building.

Members of the group posted videos showing them sitting in the dark against the light of their mobile phones, as Lebanon suffers from chronic electricity cuts of up to 23 hours a day.

Dozens of activists gathered near parliament on Thursday evening to show their support, and another rally was expected later Friday.

Aoun’s 2016 election as president followed a more than two-year vacancy at the presidential palace, as lawmakers made 45 failed attempts to elect a new head of state.

Neither the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement nor its opponents have a clear majority in the current parliament.

Since late 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 95 percent of its value and much of the population has been plunged into poverty.

As the deadlock persists, the currency on Thursday fell below the psychologically important threshold of 50,000 to the greenback on the black market, dealers said.

The official exchange rate is currently 1,507 to the dollar.