BEIRUT (Reuters) – The influential head of the Maronite Christian church urged Lebanon’s opposition on Friday to end its boycott of the presidential election and said the repeatedly delayed vote must be held “before it is too late”.
The sessions to elect a successor to pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud, whose term expired on November 23, have failed because there was no agreement between the rivals on a candidate, who must be a Maronite under a sectarian power-sharing system.
The opposition, led by pro-Syrian Hezbollah, boycotted some of the sessions to stop the anti-Syrian ruling coalition, who have a slim majority in the chamber, from electing one of their own candidates.
“The current situation is dangerous,” Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir said in a statement. “We don’t know if there are officials who realise how dangerous it is…”
In a clear reference to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader, Sfeir said he who had kept parliament closed bore a “big responsibility” no matter what the pretexts were.
The year-long crisis, Lebanon’s worst since the 1975-1990 civil war, erupted after pro-Syrian ministers resigned from Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s Western-backed cabinet last year in protest over being denied a bigger say in government.
“What is required now is speediness in electing a president before it is too late. That falls on the responsibility of all the MPs,” Sfeir said.
He also berated both sides over allegiances to foreign powers, saying it made them “prisoners of their position and paralysed their capabilities”.
The majority coalition is backed by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia and the opposition by Syria and Iran.
Berri postponed on Thursday the election for a sixth time to December 7, to give more time for talks focusing on the army chief’s nomination for the vacant post.
General Michel Sleiman has emerged as the only candidate who both sides might agree on before next week’s vote.
France had led mediation efforts to try and resolve the crisis before Lahoud’s term ended and under a failed initiative, Sfeir was pressured into drafting a list of possible presidential contenders.
Sfeir expressed frustration that the foes could not agree on a candidate from his list which he said he had reluctantly produced.
Agreement on a new president would defuse the crisis, though fears of a return to large-scale violence have eased since last week with both sides seeking to contain rather than escalate their standoff.