BEIRUT, (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday warned that Lebanon faced “the brink of the abyss” without an end to its political crisis and said it was vital that a presidential election go ahead on time next week.
Parliament is due to convene on Nov. 21 to elect a successor to President Emile Lahoud, a close ally of Syria whose term ends on Nov. 23. But the vote will fail without a deal between rival leaders on the new president. Many fear that no agreement could result in two governments and trigger political violence in a country still recovering from its 1975-1990 civil war.
Ban said he had told rival leaders during a visit to Beirut that it was “imperative that parliament must be convened to elect a new president”, urging them to find a solution that has “the broadest possible support”. “The world is looking at Lebanon. This is a critical time for the future of this great country. If responsibilities are not shouldered, it might be moved to the brink of the abyss,” Ban told reporters at the end of his visit.
The power struggle between the Western-backed governing coalition and its opponents, led by pro-Syrian Hezbollah, has paralysed government for a year. Agreement on Lahoud’s successor and the cabinet to be formed by the new president is seen as crucial to defusing the crisis. “I expect and I’m confident that all of my Lebanese friends will conduct this important political process in a democratic and non-violent manner,” Ban said.
The presidential election has already been postponed three times to give rivals more time to agree. The new head of state will be the first to be elected since Syria withdrew troops from Lebanon in 2005.
France, which backs the governing coalition, is leading efforts to push the leaders towards a deal.
According to the mediation plan, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader, and majority leader Saad al-Hariri are to pick a president from a list drawn up by the head of the Maronite Christian church.
The head of state has to be a Maronite according to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.
Agreement between the opposition and the parliamentary majority is needed to secure a two-thirds quorum. Some members of the ruling coalition have said they have the right to elect a president using their slim majority if there is no deal.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has been one of the most vocal proponents of the governing coalition’s right to elect a president that way — a move which Hezbollah says would be tantamount to a coup. But in a sign of possible progress towards a deal, Jumblatt said on Friday he respected the “desire for consensus”, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.