No new president for Lebanon as deadline looms

As in previous sessions over the past month, the vote could not be held as lawmakers allied with the Shiite militant group Hizbollah boycotted the voting.

BEIRUT // Lebanon’s parliament failed to agree on a new president during a session on Thursday seen as a last-ditch effort to elect a new head of state.

It was the parliament’s fifth attempt to do so and came two days before President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term expires.

As in previous sessions over the past month, the vote could not be held as lawmakers allied with the Shiite militant group Hizbollah boycotted the voting for lack of agreement on a consensus president.

The move all but ensures a presidential vacuum in the Arab nation as it struggles to deal with security issues and the fallout from the civil war in Syria.

“I believe that we are heading toward a vacuum in the president’s post and there will be no elections. This is a negative message to the international community,” legislator Khaled Daher said after the meeting.

A presidential vacuum is not expected to have immediate repercussions.

Lebanon has a national unity government which will continue to administer the country. But it is a setback to the country’s institutions and a blow to the Christian community in Lebanon, the only Arab state with a Christian head of state.

According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.

Lebanon is deeply split along sectarian and ideological lines, and divisions have worsened because of Syria’s civil war. Lebanon’s elections are traditionally influenced by international and regional actors backing rival factions, and presidents are elected only after securing the necessary regional support and consensus among the political camps.

No such consensus has emerged yet.

As in previous sessions, lawmakers affiliated with a Hizbollah-led alliance stayed away. A two-thirds quorum of the legislature’s 128 members is required for an electoral session — or at least 85 lawmakers. Some 73 members showed up on Thursday.

Hizbollah lawmakers have said lack of agreement would mean that no candidate would reach the required majority to win the election, making their attendance pointless.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri said parliament would keep its doors open until the expiry of Mr Suleiman’s term on midnight on Saturday in case the feuding political factions reach a last-minute deal.

It wouldn’t be the first time there is a presidential vacuum in Lebanon, a perpetually divided country with 18 religious sects and a sectarian-based power-sharing system. The country went for months without a president before Mr Suleiman was elected in 2008.

* Associated Press

Published: May 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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