Lebanese parliament fails to elect a new president

Lebanese parliament fails to elect a new president     

23 April 2014

(Translation of this article appears in Arabic section)

Lebanese parliamentarians failed to elect a new president in a first round of voting on Wednesday, with leading candidate Samir Geagea falling well short of the required two-thirds majority.

Geagea's shortfall had been widely expected and is likely to open up the race to other candidates in a process which politicians have warned could drag on for months.

Geagea, leader of Lebanese Forces, won 48 votes, with 52 blank ballots cast, 16 for MP Henry Helou from Walid Jumblatt's bloc, one vote for Kataeb head and former president Amin Gemayel, and 7 void ballots, the Daily Star reported.

The parliament session was later adjourned for lack of quorum after many March 8 coalition lawmakers walked out of the session, and a new session was set for April 30.

Speaker Nabih Berri convened the first round of election at 12:05 p.m. after 124 lawmakers arrived to take part in the session. Ministers from Prime Minister Tammam Salam's Cabinet also attended the session, as well as several foreign ambassadors.

LF MP Strida Geagea criticized the blank ballots, saying she had hoped that a name of a strong candidate would have been put forward instead.

“It would have been better if a clear candidate was running against us ... they should have voted for a strong candidate,” Geagea told reporters following the session.

“A strong candidate would have been someone like [former] General Michel Aoun,” she added.

Geagea also commented on some of the ballots that included the names of figures killed during the war whose relatives accuse the LF leader of their murder, including Dany Chamoun and Rashid Karami.

“This is irresponsible behavior and political bankruptcy ... we know how they died and who was responsible for that,” said Geagea, who maintains her husband's innocence.

The void ballots carried the names of former Prime Minister Rashid Karami, who was killed in a car bomb in 1978, Dani Chamoun and his son, Tareq, who were both killed in 1990 when Tareq was just seven, Jihan Franjieh, the daughter of Tony Franjieh who was killed in 1978, and Elias Zayek who was slain in the 1980s.

Presidential hopeful Helou, Jumblatt’s nominee, also vowed to continue with the presidential campaign until the end, saying “the most important thing is to help safeguard the country through an all-inclusive dialogue.”

The Future Movement-led March 14 coalition announced its unanimous support for Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea after an extraordinary meeting Tuesday evening.

Even the Kataeb Party, which was widely expected to nominate its leader, former President Amin Gemayel, for the presidency, has committed to voting for Geagea.

In the first round of voting, Geagea was expected to garner around 50 votes, well below the 86 votes that are required to win the presidency.

Centrist lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Najib Mikati and MPs from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said they would either cast blank ballots or vote for Helou, who has been nominated by Jumblatt’s bloc.

Parliament must choose a successor to President Michel Suleiman, whose six-year term ends in late May. But deep political divisions within the country and over the war in neighboring Syria have hampered efforts to agree on a new president, who must be a Maronite Christian.


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