BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) – Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday postponed a parliamentary session to elect a new president until Nov. 12 to give rival factions time to agree on a compromise candidate, a statement said.
The 128-member parliament, dominated by anti-Syrian legislators, was scheduled to meet Tuesday to try again to choose a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, who steps down Nov. 24, after an opposition boycott prevented an election during the Sept. 25 session.
“In order to allow more consultations (aimed at) reaching a consensus on the election of a president who will constitute a symbol of the country’s unity and immunity, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has decided to postpone the session, scheduled for tomorrow, until Monday Nov. 12,” said the statement issued by the parliament’s secretariat general.
The postponement of Tuesday’s session, which was widely expected, came two days after the foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain met in Beirut with Lebanese government and opposition leaders in an attempt to reconcile their conflicting views on the election of a new president and avoid a much-feared power vacuum in the country.
Their visit came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by foreign officials in Lebanon, reflecting mounting concerns that failure to elect a president could lead to a power vacuum, or possibly the creation of two rival governments which would threaten the mission of U.N. peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon.
The three ministers, whose countries are the top contributors to the 13,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, prodded the rival Lebanese factions to agree on the election of a new president as an essential step toward breaking a monthslong political deadlock. They also managed to bring the feuding pro-government and opposition politicians together in a meeting they attended late Saturday.
An-Nahar newspaper said the postponement of Tuesday’s session was the first outcome of the three ministers’ talks to allow time for feuding Lebanese factions to agree on a new president.
The Lebanese parliament failed to elect a president last month because of a boycott by the Hezbollah-led opposition that denied the legislature a quorum. Lawmakers have been unsuccessful so far in efforts to reach agreement on a consensus candidate between the anti-Syrian, pro-government camp and the opposition led by the militant Hezbollah group, which is backed by Syria and Iran.
The Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has been locked for a nearly a year in a fierce power struggle with the opposition.
Legislator Saad Hariri, leader of the parliamentary majority, has held several rounds of talks with Berri, who aligned with the opposition, in a bid to agree on a president acceptable to the anti-Syrian coalition and the opposition. Berri has been quoted by An-Nahar and As-Safir newspapers as saying that a consensus on a president is “forthcoming.”
Under Lebanon’s complex sectarian-based political system since its independence in 1943, a president traditionally hails from the Maronite community, which makes up the largest sect among the minority Christians.
The election of a consensus president is certain to ease the political power struggle that has been raging since last year.
The majority is hoping to put one of its own in the post, but the opposition has rejected a president whom they don’t endorse. More than 15 declared or undeclared candidates are vying for the post.