Lebanon parliament puts off vote

A033458233.jpgBEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanon’s parliament on Tuesday adjourned for four weeks a crucial session to elect a new president for lack of a quorum and to allow more time for MPs to reach agreement on a consensus candidate.

“Today’s session has been adjourned to October 23 at 10:00am for lack of a quorum,” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said in a statement shortly after lawmakers were to convene for the first time in nearly a year.

A two-thirds majority of the 127-strong parliament is required for a candidate to be elected by parliament in the first round of voting to replace the current pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whose term ends in November.

In the event of a second round a simple majority suffices. Most of the 58 MPs from the Hizbollah-led opposition boycotted Tuesday’s session on the grounds that the feuding political parties had failed to agree on a consensus candidate to replace Lahoud.

“We hope to reach an agreement in the next few days and weeks so we can have a quorum,” said Hizbollah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan. “The ball is now in the court of the ruling majority.”

MP Samir Frangieh, a member of the Western-backed ruling coalition which has 68 votes in the legislature, made clear that his camp planned to go ahead with a vote when lawmakers reconvene in October even if no agreement is struck.

“We are giving negotiations a chance until the next session on October 23, but this is the last chance as during that session we will go ahead with a simple majority vote if there is no agreement,” he told AFP.

However, presidential candidate Michel Aoun, who heads the opposition Free Patriotic Movement, warned against any attempt by the majority to force through a vote. “Our message is clear: the election by a simple majority would be a declaration of war,” he said.

“The issue of the legal quorum is not open to discussion, and countries that back such a president [elected by a simple majority] will have to dispatch troops to protect him.”

Although Berri had summoned rival factions to convene on Tuesday, it was clear beforehand that an actual vote would not take place because of the lock. Berri nonetheless has voiced optimism that Lebanon’s divided parties would strike a compromise by November 24, when Lahoud’s term ends.

The lawmakers arrived at the parliament building in central Beirut under tight military escort, many from a nearby luxury hotel where they had been staying for security reasons. The perimeter around parliament was off-limits to traffic with elite troops and tanks deployed throughout the capital. Several MPs from the ruling coalition briefly held up a banner bearing the names and pictures of six fellow lawmakers killed since 2005 in attacks they have blamed on Syria.

The latest victim, Antoine Ghanem, was assassinated last week in a car ing. Portraits of the MPs killed and Lebanese flags were also placed on the seats normally reserved for them.

Ghanem was the eighth anti-Syrian politician to be assassinated since the 2005 of five-time prime minister Rafiq Hariri, a that led to massive protests and put an end to nearly three decades of Syrian tion. Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s government has been paralysed since opposition forces, which include factions backed by Iran and Syria, withdrew their six ministers from the Cabinet in November 2006 in a bid to gain more representation in government.

Fears are running high that the lock over the presidency could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the end of the 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled it out.

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