Lebanon fails to elect a new President

Today, Wednesday 23 April, the Lebanese parliament failed to elect a new president. Lawmakers had to elect a successor for President Michel Suleiman, whose six-year term ends on 25 May. Political turmoil and social unrest have divided the country, making it very difficult to reach agreement on a suitable presidential candidate.

Lebanese Forces Party chairman, Samir Geagea, won 48 out of 128 votes, well short of the 86 vote minimum. He said: “We will not acquiesce to a settlement over the presidential elections and we will continue with the democratic process until the end.” The runner-up was socialist lawmaker Henri Helou, who gained 16 parliamentary votes. 52 lawmakers casted a blank ballot. Geagea and Helou will face each other in a second round on 30 April.

The office of President of Lebanon has been constitutionally reserved for the Maronite Christians, in a constitutional system aimed at sharing representation among the different religious communities. The vote requires the candidate to win a two-thirds majority, 86 seats, to declare victory. If this requirement is not met, the second round vote requires an absolute majority of half-plus-one, 65 seats, in the 128-seat Lebanese Parliament.  

The main candidates

The main Maronite candidate for the presidency is the former armed forces commander Samir Geagea. He is also the chairman of the Lebanese Forces Party, the main Christian faction of the March 14 opposition coalition. Geagea is known to be a vocal opponent of Syrian President Al Assad and has a clear political signature. March 14 coalition stated: “we consider that his candidacy is a representation of the principles on which the Cedar Revolution and March 14 were based.”  

Geagea main opponent is Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) lawmaker Henri Helou. PSP party leader, the charismatic Walid Jumblatt, said: “I am proud to present a candidate of dialogue, moderation, and consensus with an open political legacy.” The PSP is part of the national ruling coalition (Free Patriotic Movement, Amal Movement, Hezbollah, PSP and some minor parties) and supports the Islamists militant group Hezbollah. Thought Hezbollah supports the Assad regime in Syria, the PSP does not.

The political deadlock means that none of the candidates are able to gain a parliamentary majority. A lot of lawmakers voted blank out of protest to the political deadlock, saying the conditions for political consensus “are not ripe yet.” Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahini hoped for a quick election and stated: “Lawmakers should exercise the duty, bestowed upon them by the people, to elect a president who is best suited for Lebanon.”

Domestic difficulties

Divisions in the country make it very difficult to reach agreement over a successor for President Suleiman. Disagreement about the conflict in neighboring Syria and internal sectarian violence resulted in parliamentary factionalism. Putting of the choice of president could add to the political vacuum in Lebanon, worsening the country’s difficulties.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, over one million Syrians fled to refugee camps in Lebanon. The Lebanese government cannot cope with the social difficulties they pose and the Lebanese economy is starting to feel the strain. The new president will have to maintain the stability of the country. He will also have to prepare parliamentary elections later this year which have been delayed for months due to the same political impasse.

If lawmakers fail to elect a new president before 25 May, the prerogatives of the president will temporarily be taken over by the Cabinet until a president is elected.  

Sources: Al Arabiya, Lebanon News Network, Naharnet, Reuters.

Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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