BEIRUT, (Reuters) – A Lebanese presidential election scheduled for Saturday has been postponed until Dec. 29, the parliament speaker said on Friday, the tenth delay to the vote.
The Western-backed ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as president, but they are still at odds over how to share power in the new government to be formed once he takes office.
The repeatedly delayed vote cannot take place without a two-thirds quorum in parliament, which can only be secured by a deal between the anti-Syrian majority and the opposition, backed by Damascus. The post has been vacant since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud’s term expired on Nov. 23.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure, said in a statement the next session was scheduled for Dec. 29 at 12 p.m. (1000 GMT).
The opposition wants guarantees it will have veto power in the new cabinet to be formed once Suleiman is elected. But majority leader Saad al-Hariri said this week he opposed the idea.
Raising tension in the country’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed on Thursday that the governing coalition elect a new president unilaterally, a move Hezbollah described as a threat to Lebanon’s stability.
Bush, accusing Syria of interfering in Lebanon, said that if the deadlock continued, the ruling group should vote using its simple majority of MPs.
Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters earlier on Friday that Bush’s comments had further complicated efforts to forge a deal between the two feuding sides, locked in a power struggle for more than a year.
“Matters are complicated and Bush’s position has increased their complexity,” Hezbollah’s Fadlallah said.
Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran and listed by the United States as a terrorist group, has previously warned that a unilateral move by the majority to elect a president would be tantamount to a coup.
Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Kassem also accused Bush of proposing the absolute majority idea “without caring about the repercussions of this issue”.
Governing coalition leaders have yet to comment on Bush’s proposal. They have lately backed away from threats of a unilateral vote and have stated their commitment to reaching consensus with the opposition over the presidency.
Fadlallah said Hezbollah was committed to a deal with the governing coalition and accused the United States of obstructing mediation efforts led by France.
In a phone call to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told him that the election, which had been due on Saturday, must go ahead as planned, Sarkozy’s spokesman said on Friday.
Damascus said on Thursday it was working to facilitate the presidential election. Hariri responded in a statement that Syria, which dominated Lebanon until 2005, had effectively announced that the vote “will not happen”.