BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Rival Lebanese leaders are making progress towards a deal to elect the army chief as president, easing a conflict that has paralysed the country, political sources said on Sunday.
General Michel Suleiman is now the frontrunner for the post which has been vacant since Nov. 23 when the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud’s term expired, leaving Lebanon without a president for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Parliament has been called to vote on Friday.
The chamber has repeatedly failed to elect a president because the Western-backed governing coalition and the opposition, supported by Syria and led by Hezbollah, have been unable to agree on a candidate. “There is progress in discussions that makes it likely that the vote would take place on Friday. General Michel Suleiman would be elected as president,” a senior political source said.
Other sources expressed confidence of a deal on Suleiman.
The vote could be delayed by a few days to allow time for a constitutional amendment needed for Suleiman to assume the post, the source said. The constitution currently prevents a senior public servant from becoming president.
Suleiman, 59, assumed his post in 1998 when Syria still controlled Lebanon. He has good ties with Hezbollah. His nomination had previously been opposed by the governing coalition, which has been committed to curbing Syria’s influence in Lebanon since the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005. But the governing coalition now see Suleiman as their only option, preferring him to a vacuum that could destabilise Lebanon. Both sides have retreated from threats of unilateral action that could have triggered violence.
One potential stumbling block to a deal is the distribution of posts in the cabinet to be formed after the presidential election. Some members of the opposition alliance, which includes Christian leader Michel Aoun, want to determine the formation of the new government in advance to secure seats.