Presidential Election in Lebanon Delayed

Unable to achieve a consensus on which Christian politician should serve as president, both pro and anti-government forces agreed to delay the vote in Parliament to choose a successor to current pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud:

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said in a statement he was postponing the vote "to allow for more consultations that would lead to consensus on electing a president who would symbolize the unity and resilience of the country".

It is the second postponement in electing a president, a step seen as vital to resolving a one-year-old crisis pitting the anti-Syrian ruling majority against the opposition, led by pro-Syrian Hezbollah. Political sources said the delay was a positive signal that the two sides were still hopeful of reaching a compromise to ensure a smooth transition.

"We wish that by that time (November 12), we are able to progress towards holding this constitutional election," Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said.

There are fears that if no president is elected before Lahoud's term expires, Lebanon would end up with two rival governments and bloodshed. The political crisis is the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Indeed, there is little sign of movement by the Hezb'allah led opposition that they wish to make a deal at all. Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has initiated a series of meetings between rival Christian factions to see if a consensus candidate can emerge but to date, every single name put forward by the pro-government forces has been shot down by the opposition.

Additionally, pro government Parliamentary leader Said Hariri has been meeting with Amal party chief and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri in an effort to reach agreement. These meetings have been cordial but sporadic and not much is being accomplished.

Hariri has said that if the deadline passes and no consensus candidate is put forward, the March 14th forces will elect their own President by simple majority in Parliament. Ideally, the president should receive 3/4 of the vote in parliament but the constitution provides for election by majority if no candidate receives that tally on the first ballot.

If the government were to take this action, it is almost certain that Hezb'allah will name their own president and then conflict may be unavoidable.

This could very well be Hezb'allah leader Hassan Nasrallah's endgame. Backed by Syria, Hezb'allah might very well be looking for an excuse to start a civil war that would allow Syria back into the game. At the very least, Lebanese politics will be a muddle for the foreseeable future.