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Aoun's bloc to cast blank ballot for presidential election

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives MP Strida Geagea in Beirut, Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: The Change and Reform bloc headed by MP Michel Aoun will cast a blank ballot during Wednesday’s Parliament session to elect a new president as the presumed candidates have yet to secure a two-thirds majority.

“We will attend tomorrow’s Parliament session and we will cast a blank ballot,” MP Emile Rahme told reporters after a bloc meeting chaired by Aoun in Rabieh.

While the former Army general has said he would only run for the country’s top Christian post as a "consensus candidate," his rival, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced his candidacy earlier this month.

Meanwhile, MP Walid Jumblatt said his National Struggle Front bloc nominated MP Henry Helou for the post, describing the Aley lawmaker as a “voice of moderation.”

Speaking to reporters after his bloc’s meeting, Jumblatt denied Helou’s nomination was a “political maneuver,” saying he believed his lawmaker can help safeguard the country.

Jumblatt, head of the seven-member parliamentary bloc, is seen as the kingmaker in the presidential election as his support for one of the two rival factions can tip the balance in its favor.

Only Geagea and MP Robert Ghanem have announced their candidacy for the presidency although Lebanon has entered its two-month constitutional deadline to elect a new head of state.

President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term ends on May 25.

None of the candidates including those who consider themselves natural nominees such as Aoun and Kataeb head Amin Gemayel have yet worked to secure two thirds majority for the first round of the parliamentary sessions.

In a clear sign Gemayel would not enter the presidential race as announced last week, MP Elie Marounie said Kataeb lawmakers would attend the legislative session and vote in favor of Geagea.

The LF leader, one of the main pillars of the March 14 coalition, phoned Gemayel and thanked him for his bloc's support.

A Lebanese Forces delegation headed by MP Strida Geagea handed Speaker Nabih Berri a copy of presidential hopeful Geagea’s platform during a meeting in Ain el-Tineh.

Geagea said the speaker praised her husband’s agenda, saying the LF expected its head to do well in Wednesday’s session.

“We expect Geagea to get no less than 50 votes for the first round of election... we have 37 votes from the Future bloc, eight votes from the Lebanese Forces along with several other independent lawmakers,” the MP told reporters after the meeting.

“As a March 14 coalition, we insist on having a single candidate. Our candidate, as March 14 forces, is Geagea and it is too early to talk about other options,” she added.

She also thanked Telecoms Minister Butros Harb, once thought to be a presidential hopeful, for contacting Geagea and voicing support for his candidacy.

Earlier in the day, Berri held talks with MP Michel Murr, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party MP Talal Arslan as well as Health Minister Wael Abu Faour who headed a delegation from Jumblatt.

Murr said he along with MP Nayla Tueni would attend Wednesday's morning session, adding that he expected quorum.

"I will check with my conscious and Lebanon's interest and then I will elect a president on that basis,” Murr told reporters after the meeting in Ain el-Tineh.

Berri also spoke to Arslan and the PSPS delegation about the presidential election.

The speaker also met with a delegation from Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya headed by MP Imad Hout.

Several blocs have already confirmed their attendance of Wednesday’s session including lawmakers from Jumblatt and Berri’s blocs.

MP Robert Ghanem who visited Geagea and Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai Tuesday said he was running for the election because he was a consensus candidate.

"I announced my candidacy on the basis that I am a consensus president. According to Article 49, the president is the head of the nation's unit and works for its institutions,” Ghanem told reporters after his meeting with Geagea in Maarab.

"When I announced I was running, I was convinced that the power of moderation is the effective power that can restore state institutions,” he added.

Future MP Ahmad Fatfat also met with Rai and ruled out the possibility of Lebanon plunging into a presidential vacuum.

 

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Summary

The Change and Reform bloc headed by MP Michel Aoun will cast a blank ballot during Wednesday's Parliament session to elect a new president as the presumed candidates have yet to secure a two-thirds majority.

None of the candidates including those who consider themselves natural nominees such as Aoun and Kataeb head Amin Gemayel have yet worked to secure two thirds majority for the first round of the parliamentary sessions.

A Lebanese Forces delegation headed by MP Strida Geagea handed Speaker Nabih Berri a copy of presidential hopeful Geagea's platform during a meeting in Ain el-Tineh.

Earlier in the day, Berri held talks with MP Michel Murr, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party MP Talal Arslan as well as Health Minister Wael Abu Faour who headed a delegation from Jumblatt.

Berri also spoke to Arslan and the PSPS delegation about the presidential election.

MP Robert Ghanem who visited Geagea and Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai Tuesday said he was running for the election because he was a consensus candidate.


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