Lebanon MPs unlikely to pick president at next session

A034374011.jpgWith less than a week to go before Lebanon’s parliament convenes again to elect a president, all indicators are that the session is doomed to fail or will be cancelled for lack of consensus among the country’s feuding political factions.“There is a lot of brinkmanship on both sides which will make it difficult to get the election as early as October 23,” Osama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, told AFP.

“And with so much posturing going on, I think they will probably wait until the very last minute to elect a president, if a president is to be elected.” Nassib Lahoud, a candidate for the presidency backed by the Western-backed ruling coalition, also said he believes next week’s session would not take place, with opposing sides waiting until the 11th hour to strike a deal.

“In one way or another we would like to give more chance for an agreement to be reached,” he told AFP. “The more time and the more pressing the deadline, the more one has a chance to reach an agreement.” Several MPs who showed up on Tuesday for the first regular parliament session in a year admitted that they were not yet ready to pick a successor to current pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term ends on November 24.

“The current situation does not justify the session even taking place next week as nothing indicates willingness to reach an agreement,” said Hizbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan. “I think the session won’t even take place for lack of a quorum.” The special session next Tuesday was called by parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a prominent member of the Hizbollah-led opposition, after MPs on September 25 failed to reach agreement on a consensus candidate to replace Lahoud.

Negotiations since then have been going on among the parties, with leading members of the ruling majority travelling to Washington and other Western capitals to seek support and opposition leaders meeting with various foreign envoys working to break the deadlock.

The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain are due in Beirut later this week to try and negotiate an end to the crisis, the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

“There are presidential elections and we want to meet all the political forces to obtain national reconciliation and look for a solution to the crisis that continues to affect the country’s stability,” Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said last week.

Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s government has been paralysed since opposition forces, which include factions backed by Iran and Syria, withdrew their six ministers from the Cabinet in November 2006 in a bid to gain more representation in government.

Fears are running high that the standoff over the presidency could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the end of the civil war when two competing administrations battled it out.

Many Lebanese are also on edge fearing another MP from the ruling coalition could be assassinated, following the murder of lawmaker Antoine Ghanem and five others in a car bombing just days before the previous parliamentary session.

Ghanem was the sixth lawmaker killed since 2005 in attacks blamed by the ruling majority on Syria, which has denied involvement.

“I think there will very likely be a new attack,” Safa said, echoing similar statements by several politicians interviewed.

“There is a pattern here and it is strongly connected to the international tribunal and is intended to impact negatively on the presidential election.” He was referring to the UN-backed tribunal set up to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive explosion on the Beirut seafront in February 2005.

An initial UN inquiry implicated Damascus and its allies in Lebanon, but Syria has vehemently denied any involvement.

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