Lebanese presidential vote postponed again

Talks between Syrian officials and Lebanon's feuding factions fail to break deadlock.

lahoud 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
lahoud 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A parliamentary session to elect a new president was delayed Sunday after talks between Syrian officials and Lebanon's feuding factions failed to break a presidential deadlock. The postponement of the session scheduled for Monday was the latest in more than a dozen such delays since the sharply divided legislature first tried to select a new head of state in September. It underlined continuing political differences in a fierce yearlong power struggle between the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and the Syrian-backed opposition led by the militant Hezbollah group. Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud's term ended on Nov. 23. The announcement by Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session until Feb. 11 came shortly after he met with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who has been holding talks with rival factions since last week. Moussa has been urging an Arab plan that calls for the election of army commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman, as president, the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law. The plan was unanimously adopted by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo earlier this month. Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but the parliament must first amend the constitution to allow a sitting military chief to become president. This process has been complicated by the opposition's demand for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions. Opposition boycotts have thwarted attempts to choose a president by preventing a two-thirds quorum. Berri said the delay would give the two sides more time to work out their differences ahead of the presidential vote. Moussa has held five days of crisis talks, including a visit to neighboring Syria, but has failed so far to solve the political crisis - Lebanon's worst since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. He said he will present a report on the outcome of his talks in Beirut and Damascus to the Arab foreign ministers, who are scheduled to meet in Cairo on Jan. 27 to assess the situation before deciding on the next move.