BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's parliament failed to pick a new president Thursday during a session seen as a last-ditch effort to elect a new head of state, two days before President Michel Suleiman's six-year term expires.

The move all but ensures a presidential vacuum in the tiny Arab nation as it struggles to deal with security issues and the fallout from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Lebanese lawmakers have not been able to agree on a consensus president and as in four previous sessions held over the past month, Thursday's election could not take place because lawmakers allied with the Shiite militant group Hezbollah boycotted the meeting.

"I believe that we are heading toward a vacuum in the president's post and there will be no elections," legislator Khaled Daher told The Associated Press after the meeting. "This is a negative message to the international community."

A presidential vacuum is not expected to have immediate repercussions. Lebanon has a national unity government, which will continue to administer the country.

But it is a setback to the country's institutions and a blow to the nation's Christian community, which has seen its fortunes slide considerably since Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

Lebanon is the only Arab state with a Christian head of state. According to the country's power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.

Maronite leaders warned Wednesday that boycotting the parliament sessions was a "violation of the constitution and the national pact."

Hezbollah officials denied they were obstructing the democratic process. A Hezbollah lawmaker, Hussein Moussawi, said lack of consensus on a leader meant that no candidate would be able to reach the required majority to win the voting.

Moussawi said attending parliament sessions in such an atmosphere would be a "waste of precious time better spent on ... offering compromises" in the search for a strong, unifying president.

Lebanon is deeply split along sectarian and ideological lines and divisions have worsened because of the civil war in Syria.

Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, where the group's members are fighting on the side of President Bashar Assad's forces, is extremely controversial and divisive in Lebanon. The country of 4.5 million is also struggling to deal with the influx of over 1 million Syrian refugees.

Lebanon's elections are traditionally influenced by international and regional actors backing rival factions, and presidents are elected only after securing the necessary regional support and consensus among the political camps.

No such consensus has emerged yet. Thursday's meeting was the fifth attempt to hold a session to elect a new head of state. A two-thirds quorum, or 85 of the legislature's 128 members, is required for an electoral session. Some 73 lawmakers showed up on Thursday.

Hezbollah has maintained their attendance is pointless without agreement on a consensus candidate.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said parliament would keep its doors open until the expiry of Suleiman's term on midnight Saturday — in case the feuding political factions reach a last-minute deal.

It wouldn't be the first time there is a presidential vacuum in Lebanon. The country went for months without a president before Suleiman, a former army commander, was elected in 2008.

Suleiman has angered Hezbollah by repeatedly calling on the group to withdraw its forces from Syria to avoid future repercussions on Lebanon, which has suffered through 15 years of its own civil war.

The group has rejected any discussion of an extension of his term.

In an interview with the daily An-Nahar published on Thursday, Suleiman said he regretted having to leave office without a hand-over ceremony with a successor.