Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ended on Monday with the country’s restless political class unable to agree on a successor, creating a vacuum that risks plunging the failed state into further chaos.

Aoun’s exit means that Lebanon, which is going through its worst economic crisis in decades, finds itself in the unprecedented situation of being ruled by an interim government and without a head of state. This has raised fears of a constitutional crisis amid a lack of clarity over the powers of the interim administration.

The presidential void came after lawmakers failed to agree on a new president four times this year. A candidate must have the support of at least two-thirds of MPs to succeed. In Lebanon’s confessional political system, the presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

Lebanon has also been without a functioning government since legislative elections in May, with rival political factions unable to agree on the composition of a cabinet.

The turmoil has delayed reforms needed to finalize a deal with the IMF to release a $3 billion loan deemed essential to ease Lebanon’s economic woes.

“Lebanon is a sinking ship and no one is at the helm,” said Sami Atallah, founding director of The Policy Initiative, based in Beirut. “It’s the usual bickering about who gets the biggest slice of the pie.” Atallah said it could take weeks or months before Aoun’s successor is agreed.

Aoun, who is an ally of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group, took office in 2016 amid another period of political turmoil in which Lebanon went 29 months without a president.

Today, Lebanon is suffering from what the World Bank describes as one of the world’s worst economic crises in 150 years.

Since 2019, bank depositors have been deprived of their savings and the currency has lost more than 95% of its value, impoverishing large sections of the population.

Many Lebanese, including civil servants, live on salaries worth $50 a month or less. Thousands more have fled the country.

“We really fear that we will end up without an IMF program, which only benefits political actors who have blocked reforms,” ​​said Diana Menhem, chief executive of Kulluna Irada, an advocacy group.

She said that after Beirut reached a maritime border deal with Israel this month, “more and more key political players are saying that we can do without the IMF because we will soon have oil revenues and gas”.

“The only battle left is to hold political actors accountable,” Menhem said.

Among them is Aoun, a deeply divisive figure. He served as a commander of the Lebanese army during the civil war of 1975-1900. He returned to Beirut after 15 years in exile and allied himself with Hezbollah, whose political rise is one of the main issues dividing lawmakers.

During his presidency, he presided over the country’s economic collapse and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people. The explosion was widely blamed on government negligence, but no one has been charged in connection with the incident.

Aoun blamed his political opponents for frustrating his efforts to bring justice to the victims of the explosion and the depositors who lost their life savings. But his critics, including the families of the blast victims, have accused him of inaction, allowing rampant corruption and weakening state institutions.

He groomed his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, another Hezbollah ally who was hit with US sanctions in 2020 for corruption, to take over as president. But he faces strong opposition.

Most Lebanese have lost all faith in their politicians.

“Do I think, wow, a new president is going to save us? No, I don’t,” said Atallah of The Policy Initiative. “Any president who comes will be there either because he is supported by a group or because he has conceded something to someone else. Anyone who enters will be handcuffed to the interests they must serve.