Lebanese MPs fail to elect new president in first vote

The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Nabih Berri, votes (23 April 2014) Parliament speaker Nabih Berri was among the 124 MPs who cast their vote in Wednesday's first ballot

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Members of Lebanon's parliament have failed to elect a new president at the first attempt before Michel Suleiman's six-year term expires on 25 May.

Samir Geagea, a former warlord backed by the pro-Western March 14 bloc, fell well short of the required two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

Many among the rival March 8 coalition, led by Hezbollah, cast blank ballots.

Lebanon's complex power-sharing system stipulates that the country's president should always be a Maronite Christian.

The prime minister is meanwhile a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia.

Parliamentary seats are also split evenly between Christians and Muslims, with branches of those religions allocated a set number.

Consensus candidates

The election of a successor to President Suleiman, a former army commander who is not seeking a second term, is likely to be long-lasting and fiercely contested.

Mr Geagea won 48 votes in Wednesday's first round, in which by 124 of the 128 members of parliament participated. But his total was eclipsed by the 52 blank votes.

Samir Geagea (4 April 2014) Samir Geagea is a fierce critic of Hezbollah's military power and its involvement in Syria

Hezbollah and its allies have yet to declare their support for a candidate.

But they oppose Mr Geagea, one of the most feared warlords during the civil war and a fierce critic of the Shia Islamist movement's current military power and its involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

A second candidate, Henri Helou, who is backed by a small bloc of independents and centrists led by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, won 16 votes. One vote was also cast for Phalange party leader Amin Gemayel, who was president from 1982 to 1988.

Reports say former army commander Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, may declare that he is running for president ahead of the next round, which will be held in a week.

If parliament fails to elect anyone, the rival alliances may try to find consensus candidates, such as the current army chief Gen Jean Kahwaji or Central Bank governor Riad Salameh.

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