Lebanon's parliament opens way for presidential battle

Session would be first time parliament meets since Speaker Nabih Berri refused to convene lawmakers in October.

emile lahoud 298 88ap (photo credit: AP)
emile lahoud 298 88ap
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanon's presidential election battle opened Wednesday when parliament's head set Sept. 25 as the day the deeply divided body must begin voting to choose a head of state. The session would be the first time the parliament has met since October because Speaker Nabih Berri has until now refused to convene lawmakers after his opposition allies resigned from the government. Between that session and Nov. 23 when the president must step down, parliament will have to decide a new head of state and overcome the deep political divisions threatening to tear the small country apart. The US-backed parliamentary majority and the pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian opposition led by the militant group Hezbollah have been locked in a fierce power struggle and are at odds over whether the president is elected by two-thirds of the parliament or a simple majority in the 128-seat house. The opposition has threatened to boycott the vote and deny parliament its two-thirds quorum, thereby deadlocking the process, if no agreement is reached on a candidate. The majority controls 69 seats in the 128-member legislature and has threatened to just go ahead and choose a president from its own ranks with its majority. The result could well be rival governments, a grim reminder of the last two years of the 1975-90 civil war when army units loyal to competing administrations battled it out. If the parliament cannot elect a president by Nov. 23, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his Cabinet would automatically take on executive powers - a prospect pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud does not relish and has proposed to appoint the army commander to lead a civilian government that would run the country until there is agreement on a president. Opposition supporters have said Lahoud might even appoint a second government.