BEIRUT — At 11 a.m. on Thursday, as has been the case in previous weeks, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri opened a parliamentary session devoted to electing a new president. This is the ninth such meeting since the election period began on Sept. 1.
All previous sessions have failed to elect a successor to Michel Aoun, whose mandate ended on Oct. 31. The first session took place on Sept. 29.
Shortly before the meeting began, the attendance quorum of two-thirds (86 MPs out of 128) was reached, with 11 officially excused for their absence.
No political consensus has been reached on a single candidate in advance of the meeting, as is customary in Lebanon, and, like previous sessions, this one is expected to be short-lived and will likely conclude after a first round of voting.
In the first round, a candidate needs 86 votes (a two-thirds majority) to be deemed elected, while an absolute majority of 65 votes is required in subsequent voting rounds.
However, in previous sessions, Parliament did not reach a second round of voting, as members of the Hezbollah camp and their allies withdrew after the first round vote count, leading to the loss of the quorum each time.
At each new session, Berri considers that it is again a first round and that the number of votes required is 86. However, some MPs challenge this procedure as unconstitutional, saying that after the initial voting round at the electoral session on Sept. 29 all subsequent rounds of voting should require just a simple majority for a candidate to secure election.
In the previous rounds so far, the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies, Hezbollah and the Amal movement, have cast blank ballots because of a lack of agreement on a presidential candidate. Opposition MPs have also not been able to agree on a single candidate. Several parliamentary groups, such as the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party, have cast votes for Zgharta MP Michel Moawad.
However, on Tuesday, Gebran Bassil, leader of the FPM, threatened that his party could deviate from its ally Hezbollah's blank vote strategy. Bassil's remarks came following a cabinet meeting on Monday that was held with Hezbollah's approval, while FPM boycotted it.
Meanwhile, since Michel Aoun's presidential term ended Oct. 31, the country has been faced with a dual executive power vacuum for the first time in its history, with Najib Mikati's cabinet serving only in a caretaker capacity since it assumed the status following May's legislative elections.