Expectations low for Lebanon's fifth round of presidential elections
A political vacuum loomed over Lebanon Thursday as legislators were expected to fail for a fifth time to agree on a candidate to replace outgoing President Michel Sleiman three days before his term expires.
Thursday's parliamentary session is the fifth since April 23 scheduled to elect a president, and the fourth to be boycotted by the March 8 alliance, which has yet to endorse a candidate.
Unlike the last four sessions, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri vowed that Thursday's scheduled vote would remain open until May 25 when Sleiman ends his five-year term, meaning the session would not be adjourned or postponed.
The March 14 bloc accuses its opponents of attempting to sabotage the election through its boycott of the elections and for failing till now to endorse a candidate.
Their rivals reject that charge, insisting that a political agreement needs to be reached between the two sides before going to a vote.
The April 30, May 7 and May 15 votes were postponed due to a lack of two-thirds quorum needed to hold a session after March 8 MPs boycotted the election.
"We are not hindering the presidential elections," March 8 MP Alain Aoun told reporters outside Parliament Thursday. "Is there a candidate that has enough votes to win? No."
"If we attend or don't attend, no president will be elected as long as March 14 has [Lebanese Forces leader Samir] Geagea as their sole candidate," he added.
"As long as they want to force Geagea on us, they are the ones hindering the elections."
Blank ballots took home the most votes the first round of the elections on April 23, with the March 14 candidate Samir Geagea, a convicted war criminal, coming in second place.
The fiercely divided 128-member legislature is tasked with choosing a head of state under Lebanon's constitution.
A candidate needs to garner 65 votes (50 percent plus one) to win the election.