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Last Updated: May 20, 2007 - 10:48:48 AM
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Gulf & Middle East Channel

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Presidential polls heat up Lebanon's summer
May 6, 2007 - 8:39:15 AM
Christian Maronite Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfier, who usually has a say in naming the president for the highest Christian seat in the country, said upon his arrival from the Vatican Friday: 'We cannot change the Lebanese constitution as we want.'

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[RxPG] Beirut, May 6 - Discussion on a presidential election posted for September to replace pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud is getting increasingly heated in Lebanon.

The two big questions: how will the parliamentary majority meet in parliament, which is not currently in session, to elect a president? And who will be the next president?

Under Article 49 of the constitution, 'the president of the republic is elected by secret ballot by two-thirds of the members of parliament'.

This does specify the quorum needed and has paved the way for rival political factions to argue over it.

The opposition, led by the pro-Syrian Hezbollah, says the election needs two thirds of the entire 128-member parliament -.

The anti-Syrian camp led by the March 14 coalition, which makes the majority of the current parliament, says that two-thirds of the assembled deputies, no matter their number, are more than enough.

Debates on the issue began after House Speaker Nabih Berri, a major opposition figure, announced this month that parliament would be convened Sep 25 to elect a new president based on a two-thirds majority of the assembly. The new president will assume his post in November.

Lahoud's mandate was controversially extended by three years in September 2004 after parliament adopted a constitutional amendment under pressure by Syria, Lebanon's power broker at the time.

The anti-Syrian bloc, that won a majority in parliament after the elections in 2005, has repeatedly called on Lahoud to resign but the pro-Syrian president has insisted on serving out his term.

Lebanon is facing its worst crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. Pro-Syrian opposition ministers resigned from the government in November after calling for a national unity government that would grant the opposition a veto power.

The opposition alliance led by Hezbollah launched an open-ended sit-in in downtown Beirut Dec 1, in a bid to topple the government.

It declared the anti-Syrian cabinet illegitimate, saying it lacked shares between Christians and Muslims, and demanded early parliamentary elections and a new electoral law.

The Western-backed government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and backed by the March 14 parliamentary majority coalition, has rejected such calls.

It accuses the Hezbollah-led protest of trying to obstruct the formation of the international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri to protect its Syrian allies, widely blamed for the Hariri killing.

The Hariri assassination led to a widespread outcry in the country, which under local and international pressure forced Syria to withdraw from Lebanon following 30 years of military presence.

The heated debate over the presidential elections has led some Christian leaders, like hardliner General Michel Aoun, a close ally of Hezbollah, to call for presidential elections in Lebanon through direct popular vote.

But Aoun's demand has caused uproar in the country, prompting his opponents to accuse him of trying to change the Lebanese constitution.

'By such a demand, Aoun is breaching the Taef accord,' said anti-Syrian deputy Mohammed Hajjar.

The Saudi-sponsored Taef accord in 1989 ended Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and reconstructed the political system in Lebanon by transferring power away from the traditionally Maronite presidency to a cabinet divided equally between Muslims and Christians.

Christian Maronite Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfier, who usually has a say in naming the president for the highest Christian seat in the country, said upon his arrival from the Vatican Friday: 'We cannot change the Lebanese constitution as we want.'

Hajjar counters: 'The Taef agreement set the foundation for harmony between the Lebanese people in a way that goes beyond the sizes of sects and the number of its electors.'

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