BEIRUT: Lebanon’s presidential elections are unlikely to take place on time, according to a senior political source, as President Michel Sleiman’s term enters its last month Friday.
“Presidential elections will probably not happen before the summer,” the source said, requesting to remain anonymous.
“Once it happens, the presidential vacuum will create an incentive to reach an agreement on a consensus president,” the source told The Daily Star Thursday.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for the election of a president who can win the backing of all political groups, as he made a rare visit to Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
“We all know that the president in Lebanon is the president of everybody, that’s why he should be a president accepted by everyone; this does not mean, as some say, that he will be a weak [president],” Rai told reporters after the meeting.
“On the contrary, this is strength. A president is strong when he is accepted by everybody ... because we in Lebanon are in bad need of unity.”
Rai, who visited the speaker ahead of a trip to Rome, thanked Berri for convening the first round to elect a president Wednesday. Attending the session were 124 lawmakers out of the total 128 in Parliament.
None of the candidates emerged victorious during the session. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea won 48 votes. MP Henri Helou, who was nominated by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, won 16 votes and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel received one vote, with 52 blank votes cast by most of the March 8 MPs.
To win in the first round, a candidate needs at least 86 votes, with 65 votes needed to win in subsequent rounds. The quorum required in all rounds is 86 lawmakers. Berri called for another session on April 30 after many March 8 lawmakers walked out, resulting in a loss of quorum.
Rai said he hoped the quorum for next week’s session would be secured.
“The lawmakers have a duty to attend the parliamentary sessions because they have been elected by the people,” he said. “I hope the quorum will be secured for next week’s session and every session so that the lawmakers meet and elect responsibly.”
In separate remarks at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, Rai also said: “The president gets elected based on his past, present and future.”
Berri’s visitors quoted him as saying that Rai’s call for a consensus president would help in holding presidential elections.
They added that the speaker said that in next week’s session, he would wait for 30 minutes for quorum to be achieved. If this did not happen, he would call for another Parliament session.
Berri said that Wednesday’s session had shown the strength of each candidate and proved that neither Helou nor Geagea could achieve a breakthrough.
The speaker said that the pessimistic coverage of media outlets of Wednesday’s session did not reflect the reality.
“The Parliament session that will have a quorum will not be a session of candidates, but a session during which a president will be elected,” Berri was quoted as saying.
Geagea said he would not withdraw from the race in light of the results of Wednesday’s session.
“I will go till the end in my candidacy,” Geagea said during an interview with LBCI television station.
“We knew that the first round would not be decisive and we will go to the upcoming session with the same seriousness,” he added.
Similarly, MP Helou told a local radio station that he would not withdraw from elections, as Lebanon was in need of a consensus candidate.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly called for holding presidential elections on time after meeting Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail.
“I should ... stress the priority that we attach to the continuity of state institutions and in that sense to welcome the beginning of the presidential election process yesterday and to underline our concern that it be completed successfully within the timeframe set by law,” Plumbly said.
Separately, Salam will chair a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail Friday, with 34 articles on the agenda. Sleiman flew to Rome Thursday.