Lebanese lawmakers fail again to elect president

May 16, 2014 - 7:07:39 am

BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers failed for a fourth time to choose a new head of state yesterday and will try again in a week’s time, only three days before President Michel Suleiman’s term ends.

If the next round on May 22 fails, it will create a power vacuum in a country that desperately needs leadership to deal with a spillover of violence from neighbouring Syria, more than a million refugees from the civil war there, and a budget deficit close to 10 percent of the size of its economy.

Politicians say they expect disagreements over Suleiman’s replacement to drag on for months after he leaves office.

Any candidate would have to get support from the two main political blocs - Shia Muslim Hezbollah’s March 8 alliance and the rival Sunni-led March 14 coalition - to win the necessary majority from parliament’s 128 deputies.

But the two alliances support different sides in neighbouring Syria, where Sunni rebels are fighting to overthrow Hezbollah ally President Bashar al-Assad, entrenching divisions in Lebanon.

Thursday’s vote was called off after March 8 deputies boycotted the session, leaving it without the two-thirds quorum needed for the vote to go ahead.

Under the country’s religion-based power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, a sect that is itself divided on its support for March 8 and March 14.

Some lawmakers from the March 14 coalition have warned that if no president is elected before Suleiman’s term ends they will boycott parliament, leading to further paralysis in the country of 4 million people.