BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament failed Wednesday to elect a new president in the first round of voting with none of the candidates receiving the two-thirds majority needed to win.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea 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 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 French Ambassador Patrice Paoli who headed a French delegation.
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.
Lebanese Forces 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 midair helicopter bomb explosion 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.
Geagea, who has denied any involvement in the killings, also held a brief news conference following the end of the session, congratulating the March 14 parties on their success in transforming the presidential election into a “purely Lebanese affair.”
“What happened in Parliament today was an attempt to disrupt the election and hold the polls just like every other election,” Geagea said in his Maarab residence, referring to MPs who cast a blank ballot.
“There is a democratic logic, despite several disruptions, but we will never go back to the way things used to happen: Agreeing on a president behind closed doors and imposing him on the Lebanese,” he added.
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 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.
Gemayel received one vote during Wednesday's voting session.
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.