BEIRUT, (Reuters) – The leader of Lebanon’s governing coalition has accused Syria of trying to prolong the political stalemate over the election of a new president.
Saad al-Hariri told Tuesday’s al-Nahar newspaper: “What happened in parliament proves that Syria is still trying to prolong the vacuum in the Lebanese presidency,” vacant since Nov. 23 when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud’s term ended. The anti-Syrian governing coalition and its Damascus-backed opponents have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as president. But his election by parliament was postponed for a ninth time on Monday because the two sides disagree over how to share power and how to amend the constitution to allow a senior public servant to become president.
The opposition, led by Hezbollah, wants guarantees it will have at least a third plus one of the seats in the cabinet before it will take part in the presidential election. There will be no quorum for the vote unless the opposition is present.
Hariri said he backed a formula allocating the new president seats in the cabinet so that he had a decisive say in government decisions. “Our position is commitment to the president having the balancing vote in cabinet,” Hariri told al-Nahar.
The opposition should not have enough seats to veto government decisions and the ruling coalition should not have the two-thirds required to impose its will, he said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch arrived in Beirut on Tuesday and met Hariri. “What’s new now is that once again the parliament failed to meet because of the opposition’s position which prevented that. There’s a common expression of concern among the different sides in the international community. The elections have to happen… we repeat again,” Welch told reporters after the meeting, in comments dubbed in Arabic. “The presidency is an important position … for this country’s future … We call on all sides, inside and outside of Lebanon, to allow the election to move forward,” he said.
Welch said last week, on his previous visit to Beirut, that there was no reason to postpone the election and expressed strong support for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government. He met Siniora on Tuesday after his talks with Hariri.