April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Lebanese lawmakers failed to elect a president to succeed Michel Suleiman in the first round of voting today amid a political deadlock between a Hezbollah-backed bloc and their opponents.
Samir Geagea, who heads the Lebanese Forces party, won 48 votes, followed by 16 for Henri Helu, a lawmaker who was nominated by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Fifty-two members abstained, one voted for former President Amin Gemayel, while seven ballots were invalid, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said. The second round will be held April 30.
Geagea was supported by the U.S. and European Union-backed March 14 parliamentary bloc, while the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc didn’t field a candidate. The two groupings are at loggerheads over issues including Hezbollah’s role in Syria’s civil war.
The civil war in neighboring Syria as well as domestic political turmoil have slowed Lebanon’s economic growth in the past three years, raised unemployment and turned tourists away. The unrest worsened after Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group, admitted last year that its fighters were helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war against rebels.
Before today’s vote, Lebanese newspapers said supporters of Michel Aoun, a March 8 leader and a nemesis of Geagea toward the end of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, plan to invalidate their ballots to block his candidacy.
Under Lebanon’s sectarian system, the president has to be Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite. The accord that brokered the end of the civil war divided political powers among the country’s three main sects.
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