BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Lebanon’s presidential vote will be delayed again because rival factions are still haggling over ways to amend the constitution to allow the election of the army chief as the new president, political sources said on Monday.
Parliament is due to convene on Tuesday in an 8th attempt to elect a president, a post vacant since Nov. 23 when the term of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud expired. The feuding anti- and pro-Syrian camps agreed last week on General Michel Suleiman as a consensus candidate for the post. But differences over how to amend an article in the constitution that bans a serving public servant from running for office have delayed Suleiman’s confirmation. “Despite progress achieved, it is almost certain that Tuesday’s session will not be held,” a senior source said, adding another session would be set for later in the week.
Electing Suleiman would ease Lebanon’s worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. His nomination followed intense French-led mediation to resolve the crisis.
Arab and Western states have expressed concern that a prolonged vacuum in the presidency could further destabilise Lebanon. “No one can surpass all this international will for a compromise in Lebanon,” the senior source said.
Other sources said the extra time would be used to try to agree on how to amend the constitution — now the main stumbling block.
The opposition, including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, does not want the amendment to need approval from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government, which it has seen as illegitimate since the resignation of its Shi’ite Muslim ministers 13 months ago.
The Western-backed ruling coalition says any amendment should go through Siniora in line with the constitution. But the opposition fears this would be seen as a tacit recognition of the government and all its decisions. “We are for amending the constitution to salvage the country but we refuse breaching the constitution (by bypassing the government),” majority leader Saad al-Hariri told As-Safir newspaper.
Suleiman, 59, was appointed army chief in 1998 when Syria still dominated Lebanon. He has good ties to Hezbollah, the powerful armed group backed by Syria and Iran. He is a Maronite Christian, in line with the requirements of Lebanon’s power-sharing system.
Parliament has already postponed the election seven times since the first session on Sept. 25.