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Lebanese MPs fail to pick new president

Parliament must choose a successor to President Michel Suleiman

Published: Updated:

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

The country's lawmakers took part in the first round election seeking to replace President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ends on May 25.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the Western-backed March 14 candidate, won 48 votes, while MP Henri Helou, who belongs to Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, won 16 votes. Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel received one vote.

Fifty-two blank and seven void ballets were cast.

One hundred and twenty eight MPs made it to Wednesday’s session, meeting the minimum two-thirds attendance to proceed with the poll.

According to Lebanon’s constitution, in the first round of voting, a candidate needs a minimum of 86 votes to be named the next president.

Geagea's failure to win sufficient votes 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.

Deep political divisions within the country and the war in neighboring Syria have hindered efforts to agree on a new president.

Parliament Speaker Nabib Berri adjourned Wednesday’s session to April 30.

In the second round of the election, the voting requirements are lowered to an absolute majority, or at least 65 votes, in order for a candidate to be named the next president.

The house has a constitutional deadline of two months – from March 25 to May 25 - to elect the next head of state.

If lawmakers fail to elect a new president within the constitutional deadline, the prerogatives of the president are temporarily taken over by the Cabinet until the election of a new head of state.

Presidential candidates

Lebanon's presidency is reserved for the country's Maronite Christians under a confessional system aimed at sharing representation among its many religious communities.

The leading Maronite to declare his candidacy so far is Geagea, a vocal opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is expected to be backed - at least in the first round - by the anti-Assad March 14 coalition, led by Sunni Muslim former premier Saad al-Hariri.

Geagea, 61, spent 11 years in jail for political murders and other killings during Lebanon's civil war, the only warlord imprisoned after the conflict ended in 1990.

The rival March 8 political bloc, led by militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah which is fighting in Syria to support Assad, has indicated it would back former army chief Michel Aoun.

Aoun, a Hezbollah ally trying to portray himself as a consensus figure in contrast with Geagea, has yet to declare himself formally in the running.

"Wednesday's session will not bring a new president, but it might pave the way for consensus options, including Michel Aoun," one March 8 source told Reuters, adding that many parliamentarians would hand in blank papers.

(with Reuters)