Lebanon parliament to vote on new president

Photo: Lebanon parliament to vote on new president / Arab World

The Lebanese parliament will meet Wednesday to vote for a new president, a process expected to encounter fresh obstacles, as political factions remain undecided on a consensus figure, Al Arabiya reported.

The meeting will have the country's lawmakers participate in the first round election seeking to replace President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ends on May 25.

Observers say Lebanon's political divisions make it unlikely any candidate will win in the first round, and a second round is likely to be scheduled.

Wednesday's vote requires candidates to win a two-thirds majority to declare victory, but if no winner emerges, a second-round vote only requires the victor to win an absolute majority of 50 plus 1.

Political sources told Reuters that a majority of parliamentarians may submit blank voting slips on Wednesday to pave the way for more talks over a consensus candidate.

Putting off the choice of president could add to a political vacuum in Lebanon which is struggling to contain a domestic sectarian conflict while also grappling with a flood of Syrian refugees and a sharp slowdown in economic growth.

Lebanon's presidency is reserved for the country's Maronite Christians under a confessional system aimed at sharing representation among its many religious communities.

The leading Maronite to declare his candidacy so far is Samir Geagea, a vocal opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is expected to be backed - at least in the first round - by the anti-Assad March 14 coalition, led by Sunni Muslim former premier Saad al-Hariri.

Geagea, 61, spent 11 years in jail for political murders and other killings during Lebanon's civil war, the only warlord imprisoned after the conflict ended in 1990.

The rival March 8 political bloc, led by militant Shi'ite group Hezbollah which is fighting in Syria to support Assad, has indicated it would back former army chief Michel Aoun.

Aoun, a Hezbollah ally trying to portray himself as a consensus figure in contrast with Geagea, has yet to declare himself formally in the running.

March 14 and March 8 sources say that means Wednesday's vote is likely to be inconclusive, with Geagea unable to garner the two-thirds support necessary for a first-round victory - or the 50-percent-plus-one vote needed in any subsequent count.

"Wednesday's session will not bring a new president, but it might pave the way for consensus options, including Michel Aoun," one March 8 source told Reuters, adding that many parliamentarians would hand in blank papers.

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