Blank ballots lead in first round of Lebanon presidential vote

A ballot box sits on a table next to the national flag at the Lebanese Parliament in the capital Beirut on April 22, 2014 ahead of Wednesday's presidential election. (Photo: AFP)

A ballot box sits on a table next to the national flag at the Lebanese Parliament in the capital Beirut on April 22, 2014 ahead of Wednesday’s presidential election. (Photo: AFP)

An article on the first round of presidential elections in Lebanon, published in Al-Akhbar English in April 2014.

Lebanese parliamentarians voted on Wednesday in the highly anticipated first round of presidential elections, with the majority of votes split between Samir Geagea and blank ballots in protest of his candidacy.

The first count of the ballots gave 52 blank votes, 48 votes for Geagea and 16 for Henri Helou.

Seven votes nominating people who were allegedly killed by Geagea were declared void. The names included Dany and Tareq Chamoun and Jihane Frangieh.

No candidate managed to obtain 86 votes, a quorum necessary to be elected in this session. A second vote is expected to take place on April 30. In the next session, a candidate will only need to secure 50 percent of votes, meaning 65, to win the presidency.

The elections have heightened the rivalry between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, as March 8 strongly opposed the candidacy of March 14-backed Geagea, who spent 11 years in prison for crimes committed during the civil war.

Three people had declared their candidacy prior to the vote: Geagea of the Lebanese Forces, Helou of the Progressive Socialist Party and independent candidate Nadine Moussa, who is the first woman to officially present herself in presidential elections in Lebanon. She did not receive any votes.

In a press conference after the vote, Geagea pushed aside questions about his controversial status as a candidate, accusing his opponents of trying to get foreign powers involved in the electoral process.

Referring to the votes nominating deceased opponents and their family members, Geagea said he “was hoping that the other camp would have resorted to honorable means to express its disdain for the elections.”

Geagea’s wife, MP Strida Geagea, vowed the March 14 candidate would “remain in this battle till the end.”

Helou called the vote “perfect and democratic without any foreign interference.”

“The only solution is through moderation and agreement over one candidate that brings all parties together,” he said.

However, Moussa slammed Wednesday’s elections, calling it a “tragic farce.”

“I feel sorry for Lebanese democracy. This vote was a tragic farce,” she toldAl-Akhbar, saying that her program had not been distributed to the MPs despite her official request, and that the request by an MP for candidates to present their programs ahead of the vote had been swept aside. She added that she had submitted a formal request to speak in front of Parliament ahead of the next round.

Moussa said “total reform” was necessary in Lebanese politics, calling the system a “masked monarchy” and a “dictatorship of sectarian leaders.”

With no strong contender for the post, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun has been considered as a potential consensus candidate for the second round. Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel, who received one vote on Wednesday, officially declared his candidacy for the second round.

“People have vivid memories and have demonstrated a great deal of aggravation regarding Geagea’s candidacy for the Presidential post,” the Lebanese National News Agency quotes Aoun as saying.

Presidents in Lebanon are chosen through a parliamentary and cabinet vote as opposed to a general election.

The parliamentary session began at 12:10 pm with 124 MPs present out of 128. The absent MPs were independent Elie Aoun, March 14’s Oqab Saqr, Khaled Daher, and Future Movement leader Saad Hariri.

The vote started at 12:15 pm, with an ballot box passed on from MP to MP, and ended at 12:23 pm. The votes were then read one by one.

Under the 1943 National Pact, Lebanon’s president must be a member of the Maronite community. Incumbent president Michel Suleiman, who has been in office since 2008 and whose term expires on May 25, has repeatedly rejected the notion of an extension of his term.

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