Lebanon's opposition threatens to boycott presidential vote

The threat is likely to scuttle the presidential vote for the 11th time because the Western-backed majority has rejected the opposition's conditions.

lebanese flags 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
lebanese flags 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanon's Syria-backed opposition threatened Sunday to boycott next week's parliament session to elect a new president unless the ruling coalition agrees to the shape of a future government ahead of the vote. The threat is likely to scuttle the presidential vote for the 11th time because the Western-backed majority has rejected the opposition's conditions, saying the shape of the next government could be discussed only after the presidential vote. The opposition will participate in the presidential vote, now scheduled for Dec. 29, "only in the framework of a clear and integrated political agreement as part of a full package with clear guarantees," said Hussein al-Haj Hassan a legislator from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which leads the opposition. Absent this agreement, "the opposition will not go to the voting session next Saturday and will not facilitate the election process," said Hassan in the statement. The post has been empty since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ended Nov. 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but 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, which the ruling coalition has rejected. "The political process is inter-linked. The presidency, the government and other issues cannot be separated from each other," said Hassan Fadlallah, another Hezbollah lawmaker. The ruling coalition has accused the opposition of obstructing the presidential vote under orders from Syria and Iran, which back Hezbollah. In turn, the opposition claims pro-government groups in the parliament majority follow US policies. "The problem is not with Gen. Suleiman as a consensus candidate, but with a group (the ruling coalition) that changes its political stands according to American dictates," said Hassan. Also Sunday, opposition lawmakers lashed out at US President George W. Bush for urging the parliamentary majority to elect a president with a simple majority if necessary to resolve a long political deadlock. Lebanon's sharply divided parliament has failed ten times to elect a president because the opposition has boycotted sessions, preventing a two-thirds quorum to convene a session. The ruling coalition has avoided trying to use its slim majority in parliament to elect a president, which would escalate tensions with the opposition. Bush urged such a step for the first time Thursday. "Bush didn't enter a country where he didn't cause wars and strife," said Fadlallah, the Hezbollah legislator. "He is trying to spread his experiment to Lebanon." Opposition legislator Osama Saad agreed, saying Bush's call would plunge Lebanon into "chaos and expose it to dangers."