BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Rival Lebanese leaders tried on Thursday to finalise a deal to have the army chief elected as president but persistent problems over associated issues indicated a vote in parliament could be delayed.
The assembly is due to convene on Friday to elect a president, a post vacant since Nov. 23 when the term of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud expired.
The presidency is the latest stage in a power struggle between the anti-Syrian governing coalition and the opposition led by the pro-Damascus Hezbollah. General Michel Suleiman has emerged as a candidate acceptable to the rival camps.
Friday’s vote will go ahead only if the Western-backed ruling coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition first agree on a broad power-sharing deal, including the shape of a new cabinet.
Officials said Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, also an opposition leader, met anti-Syrian majority coalition leader Saad al-Hariri in the presence of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Thursday.
The meeting ended without any statements. Kouchner, talking with reporters, indicated another round was planned for later in the day.
The three met on Wednesday to discuss the election of Suleiman, the outline of the new government and a law for a 2009 parliamentary election.
Political sources said the main obstacle delaying a deal were demands by Christian opposition leader and Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun for a prime minister agreed on by both sides.
Aoun also wants guarantees that his share of seats in the new cabinet will reflect the size of his parliamentary bloc — the biggest of any Christian faction.
Agreement on a president would defuse a political crisis that has paralysed Lebanon for more than a year and sparked its worst internal strife since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian in line with a complex sectarian power-sharing system.
Suleiman, 59, had been the consensus candidate favoured by the opposition. He has good ties with Hezbollah and was appointed army chief in 1998 when Syria controlled Lebanon.
The governing coalition declared its support for him on Sunday, dropping its opposition to a constitutional amendment needed to allow a senior public servant to become president.