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Friday, October 19, 2007

Lebanon Dilemma - Choosing a President

Lebanon's presidential vote; search for consensus
Fri, 28 Sep 2007 19:58:03
By Daryoush Bavar, Press TV, Tehran
Lebanon's parliament convened on Tuesday under tight security, but failed to elect a new president.

Parliamentary Speaker, Nabih Berri, said in a statement that the session was postponed until October 23 due to the lack of a 'two-thirds quorum'.

Lebanon has been locked in political crisis since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. The Parliament had not convened since November because of a boycott by the opposition who maintain the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is unconstitutional after six opposition cabinet ministers have resigned.

They also say the ruling majority is trying to monopolize power in the country. Legislators of the March 14 coalition, who hold a slim majority, attended the session of parliament, but opposition members who had gathered in the building stayed away from the session.

The postponement had been expected after the opposition, led by Hezbollah, vowed to boycott the session to block the U.S.-supported majority from electing a president from among their own ranks. Their boycott meant that a quorum, needed to elect a successor to President Emile Lahoud, would not be achieved. The opposition wanted a deal on a consensus candidate before its MPs participated in the session.

Parliament needs a two-thirds majority to elect a president in the first round of voting. Under Lebanon's sectarian-based political structure, the president must be a Christian Maronite.

This is Lebanon's worst political crisis since the country's civil war during 1975-1990 conflict. Failure to agree on a president could result in two rival governments, plunging the country deeper into instability.

In a sign of a possible re-conciliation in the 10-month-old political crisis, the pro-government majority and the opposition both said they were ready for dialogue before a possible vote on October 23.

"From now, and until October 23 we have a new chance, it is a real chance for reconciliation," Berri told As-Safir newspaper.

The delay in electing a new president was seen by the pro-government and opposition groups as a last chance to prevent an escalation in the political crisis in Beirut. During the brief parliament session, leaders of the ruling majority and the opposition renewed contacts. As-Safir newspaper reported that although the parliamentary session failed to elect a new president, it did provide an entente between the camps.

Berri, on Monday, had expressed optimism that a compromise would be reached by the deadline when Lahoud's term ends. Berri said: "By November 24, there will be a president of the republic who will have the approval of all Lebanese."

"We are hopeful for good results at the end. And this will not happen without both sides ... working together to salvage the country," Berri added.

The ruling majority share the same optimism. "Despite everything, we continue to seek constructive dialogue ... to salvage the presidential election and save Lebanon from the danger of falling into a vacuum," it said in a statement. Majority leader Saad al-Hariri said the session was a chance to "open the door to a solution and dialogue."

The pro-government ruling block has expressed their desire "to salvage the election and save Lebanon from falling into a presidential vacuum" through constructive dialogue with the opposition.

Failing to agree on a consensus candidate could prompt the feuding groups to form two rival governments, plunging the country deeper into instability. Whenever there have been signs of rapprochement, terrorists have torpedoed the process. Lawmaker Antonie Ghanem was the latest person to be assassinated in a car bombing. The opposition says Ghanem's assassination was intended to foil attempts at reconciliation.

With the political climate now showing signs of a thaw, it remains to be seen how far rival factions will go to reconcile. Realizing the need to reach consensus on a new president seems to be the only way out of the political deadlock in Lebanon.

Hezbollah slams Congress bill
Thu, 18 Oct 2007 14:23:09

Hezbollah slams US congress bill
Hezbollah has condemned US interference in Lebanon's internal affairs calling it a cover up for its crimes in Palestine and Iraq.

The US Congress has passed a bill stressing the importance of Lebanon's presidential elections being held on time and accusing Syria of hindering the process.

Hezbollah has issued a statement saying that no bill passed by the US Congress would be recognized or its aims and outcomes deliberated.

"The people of Lebanon desire complete freedom and do not appreciate any foreign interference" the statement said.

Although the US professes to have no desire to interfere in Lebanon's affairs, many Lebanese prominent political and religious figures believe that Washington's constant meddling in Lebanon's domestic issues is the main problem.

"The US intends to postpone Lebanese talks until the Israeli regime can sort out its problems in the region" the statement added.

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