BEIRUT: MP Sami Gemayel was elected Sunday as the seventh head of the Kataeb Party, in a move that transfers the leadership of one of Lebanon’s oldest political parties to the third generation of a family that has already produced two men voted to be Lebanese presidents.
Gemayel, who won with a majority of 339 votes, will now succeed his father, Amine Gemayel, a former president of Lebanon, who has led the party since 2007. Sami Gemayel’s rival, Pierre Atallah, received 37 votes.
Joseph Abu Khalil was elected as the party’s deputy leader and former Minister Salim Sayyegh was elected as second deputy leader.
Soon after his election, Gemayel promised the Lebanese to change the pattern of political life in Lebanon. “We will not become the political life of Lebanon, we will let the political life in Lebanon become like us,” a tearful Gemayel said after the announcement.
He said that he felt the weight of the responsibility he now bears and vowed to work tirelessly for the sake of the party and the Lebanese people.
“I would like to assure all the Lebanese and all sects that I will be faithful to the sacrifices they are making in this period,” Gemayel said. “I would like to assure all the Lebanese and Kataeb [members] that we will work together to attain Lebanon’s recovery.”
He promised to stand on the side of every father, every mother and every youth who are struggling every day to stay in Lebanon.
Gemayel urged unity within his party, saying “I didn’t come to do this alone.”
Addressing Kataeb officials, he said: “You will go back home late because we will be working around the clock.”
Sunday’s polls started at 10 a.m. at the Kataeb headquarters in Saifi on the last day of the party’s 30th General Conference, which kicked off Friday at the Le Royal Hotel in Dbayyeh. The ballot box closed at 3 p.m. and the results were announced at around 9:30 p.m.
After casting his ballot, Sami Gemayel told reporters: “The election was democratic. We are proud to be the only party in the East to have a democratic life.”
Asked to comment on those who criticized the passing of the party’s leadership from father to son, he said: “The critics do not belong to the Kataeb, and they do not express the will of the Kataeb. They are renegades and the remnants of the Syrian era, when the party was under [Syrian] tutelage.”
The polls come almost two weeks since Gemayel, 34, declared his candidacy and presented his electoral program during a ceremony in his hometown of Bikfaya, after his father announced he would not seek another term.
Sami Gemayel was elected to Parliament in 2009. He is the grandson of Pierre Gemayel, who founded the Kataeb in 1936. It would become the most influential Christian party during Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War. Sami Gemayel is also the nephew of assassinated President-elect Bashir Gemayel.
Amine Gemayel, who served as Lebanon’s president from 1982 to 1988, praised the party’s election and called on lawmakers to go to Parliament to end the yearlong presidential vacuum by electing a new president.
“We hope that this exemplary democratic experience will be a message to the Lebanese to fully learn from what happened and elect a president as soon as possible,” he told reporters after casting his ballot.
He said he hoped that lawmakers would follow the Kataeb election pattern by going to Parliament to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure ended on May 25 last year.
“No country can be stable without a head. The republic must not remain on hold in this manner,” he said. “Today’s Kataeb election, or this unique democratic experience, should be applied to the entire national situation in order for national institutions to be stabilized.”
Although he did not seek another term as party leader, Amine Gemayel said: “I will not leave the party. I will be staying in the party alongside all colleagues when the need arises.”
Acknowledging that he is a candidate for the presidency, he said: “What matters for me is the swift election of a president who is capable of steering the ship.”