In Lebanon vote, counting skills and glass ballot box make all the difference

Michel Aoun became Lebanon's president Monday. At one point, 128 parliamentarians voted, even though only 127 were present.  

Aziz Taher/Reuters
Newly elected Lebanese president Michel Aoun sits on the president's chair inside the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon October 31, 2016.

The parliamentary session to elect Lebanon’s new president Monday was the 46th to be held since April 2014 but the first to gain a full complement of MPs.

The previous 45 sessions were boycotted by MPs loyal to Michel Aoun, who refused to attend unless they could guarantee their candidate would win.

Lebanon’s parliament has 128 seats, and 127 serving MPs entered the chamber ahead of the noon vote (one MP resigned his seat earlier in the year).The session was good-humored, with the MPs chatting animatedly while waiting for Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s lugubrious and veteran parliamentary speaker, to call the session to order.

Each MP was handed a slip of white paper on which he or she was supposed to write down the name of their preferred candidate. In the first round of voting, a presidential candidate is required to obtain a two-thirds majority to win the presidency. A failure to win two-thirds of the vote leads to a second session in which a simple majority is required.

Once the votes were collected in a glass box, Marwan Hamade, a Druze MP, read out each slip of paper. Most of them carried the name of Michel Aoun. Just over one-third in the first count were blank ballots, a symbolic protest against Aoun and in support of Suleiman Frangieh, the other presidential candidate.

Mr. Hamade’s brow furrowed at one point as he stared at an unlikely name on a ballot slip.

“Myriam Klink,” he announced to loud guffaws of surprised laughter. Ms. Klink is a Lebanese-Serbian pop star known for her raunchy lyrics and videos.

The result of the first poll left Aoun just three votes short of the required two-thirds, necessitating a second ballot. Berri read out the tally but added Klink’s name to the list of spoiled papers.

“Why isn’t Myriam Klink included?” asked Sami Gemayel, leader of the Christian Phalange Party. “She’s Orthodox,” replied a stone-faced Mr. Berri, alluding to the fact that by tradition the Lebanese presidency is reserved only for Maronite Catholics.

The second vote proceeded but soon ran into trouble when 128 ballot papers were counted, although there were only 127 MPs present.“It seems we have forgotten how to vote. What a shame,” said Berri as a third round of voting was ordered.

But again, a mysterious extra ballot made its way into the box. For the fourth round, the glass ballot box was placed on a table before the speaker’s podium and each parliamentarian, called by name, made their way to the front and deposited their voting slip under the watchful eye of Hamade and the deputy speaker.

This time 127 votes were received and the process of counting them began. There was one last moment of levity when one of the ballot papers included the name “Zorba the Greek.” As Aoun received his 65th - and deciding - vote, the chamber burst into applause, nearly drowned out by the eruption of thunderous fireworks and celebratory gunfire from the new president’s supporters outside.

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