BEIRUT: Michel Aoun has been sworn in as Lebanon's 13th president after gaining a simple majority in the second round of voting in Monday’s highly-anticipated presidential election in Parliament, putting an end to the country’s 2-1/2-year vacuum.
“In my name and the name of the Parliament, we present to you the sincerest congratulations in the election of a president for the country during these hard times,” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said after tallying the votes.
Moments after Berri’s announcement, Aoun took the constitutional oath, promising to prioritize political stability to the country.
“I came at a hard time, and there is a lot of hope that I will overcome difficulties. ... The Lebanese need their state to protect their rights and obligations and for there to be a president who guarantees safety,” Aoun said.
He also called for the establishment of a new and fair electoral law to be passed before legislative elections, economic reforms and a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Lawmakers later offered their congratulations to the country's new head of state.
The Change and Reform bloc leader and founder of the Free Patriotic Movement initially received 84 votes, only two less needed to win the first round to become president.
In the second round, he secured 83 votes in his favor, 18 more than the 65 votes needed for a simple majority.
Before counting even ended, fireworks celebrating Aoun’s victory could be heard across Beirut.
The second round was repeated twice after an extra vote – 128 instead of 127 – appeared for a second time in the counting process.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the vote repeat for the second time, after Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel protested the counting process taking hold.
MPs Antoine Zahra and Marwan Hamade were then assigned by Berri to monitor the ballot box, which was brought to the front of the Parliament hall to avoid any errors.
“It’s been a long time since we have voted. We need time to learn. What a shame!” Berri told lawmakers.
Thirty-six of the 127 lawmakers submitted blank ballots in both rounds, in line with a request from rival presidential candidate MP Sleiman Frangieh.
MPs belonging to the Kataeb Party submitted papers reading: “The Cedar Revolution continues in the service of Lebanon.”
A lawmaker submitted a paper voting for Lebanese singer and social media celebrity Myriam Klink in the first round, while another voted for "Zorba the Greek" in the second round.
All lawmakers were present at the session with the exception of resigned Tripoli MP Robert Fadel.
Aoun, who arrived at the Parliament hall at exactly 12 p.m, was welcomed by applause by most of the MPs.
Berri was the first to arrive to the Parliament session in Beirut's Nejmeh Square, with lawmakers belonging to the Change and Reform bloc arriving shortly after.
About 30 minutes before the 12 p.m. election was set to begin, a two-thirds quorum, or 86 MPs, had arrived to Parliament for the first time since April 2014 when the first, fruitless session was held. More than 100 MPs had arrived by about 10 minutes before noon, including Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, and Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
This is the first time Change and Reform bloc MPs have attended Parliament's election sessions after boycotting the last 44 of 45 sessions.
Aoun was widely expected to be elected president after having secured the backing of Lebanon’s main factions, especially after Hariri announced his support for Aoun earlier this month. He was also backed by Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces.
Parliament had been unable to reach a quorum in the past because the Change and Reform bloc, along with Hezbollah and other March 8 parties, boycotted the session pending agreement on Aoun's election as president.
About 180 officials and personalities were invited to attend Monday's session, including the Russian and Syrian ambassadors in Lebanon and Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
Lebanon had been without a president since the term of Michel Sleiman ended in May 2014.