Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following parliament’s inability to choose a successor to outgoing President Michel Suleiman on Wednesday, Lebanon’s political blocs and figures are preparing for an intense week of politicking and lobbying ahead of a second round of voting on April 30.
Only four members of parliament out of a total of 128 failed to attend the first session on Wednesday for which only Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Progressive Socialist Party MP Henry Helou formally announced their presidential ambitions.
A candidate must secure at least a two-thirds majority to become Lebanon’s next head of state. In Wednesday’s poll, Geagea secured 48 votes and Helou winning 16. A single ballot was cast for Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel, who had not announced a presidential bid before the first round of votes. Fifty-two blank ballots were cast by March 8 Alliance MPs, and seven ballots were ruled invalid.
A second round of voting could not be held on Wednesday due to a walk out following the first-round ballot by March 8 Alliance MPs, with many in Lebanon calling for a deal between the rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions to elect a consensus candidate.
The March 14 Alliance backed Samir Geagea’s candidacy during the first round of elections but failed to secure a two-thirds majority in light of the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 coalition’s abstention. The March 8 strongly coalition rejects a Geagea presidency due to his controversial role during the Lebanese Civil War. Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, which split from March 14 over the issue, is backing Helou, while March 8 has yet to officially announce a candidate.
Michel Aoun, the March 8 Alliance’s presumed presidential candidate, told reporters that he would only run for president as a “consensus candidate” after the first round of voting. He defended March 8’s walkout, saying it is intended to give Lebanon’s political factions the opportunity to come to an agreement over a consensus candidate.
“It turned out that there was no chance for an agreement on any of the candidates . . . Therefore, we [March 8] withdrew from the hall in the hope that we could reach a sort of unanimity on a single candidate in the next session,” he said.
March 8 MP Yassin Jaber also defended his coalition’s decision to cast blank ballots on Thursday, describing it as a “political statement.” He told Lebanon’s Risala Radio: “The blank ballot decision was not an evasive [maneuver]. It was an expression of a democratic stance and the right of every MP.”
Helou on Thursday refused to pull out of the race despite his poor showing at the first round of elections, saying he could not step aside until there was a “consensus candidate.”
“The country needs a consensual candidate who is open to everybody,” he told Risala Radio, adding that he is in discussions with “various blocs” to secure backing in the second round of voting.
Amine Gemayel is also set to officially compete in the second round of voting next week, according to local media, potentially splitting the March 14 vote. “The Kataeb Party will ask the March 14 coalition to choose a candidate other than Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, after the first round did not come out in his favor,” Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi told As-Safir newspaper on Thursday.
“The Kataeb has already decided to nominate Gemayel for the presidency and he has every right to run for the election and to try to win as many votes as he can,” the Kataeb Party’s vice president added.