UN chief urges free and fair election

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday called on Lebanese leaders to hold a presidential election on time next week and said the successor to the pro-Syrian incumbent should enjoy broad support.The fate of the presidency is the focus of a year-long power struggle between the Western-backed governing coalition and the opposition, which is supported by Damascus and Tehran. President Emile Lahoud’s term ends on November 23.

“The political situation in Lebanon is complex and difficult,” Ban said upon arrival in Beirut. “The country now stands at an important crossroads in its modern history,” he told reporters. “The new Lebanese president should enjoy the broadest possible acceptance so that he or she can represent all Lebanese people.”

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading member of the opposition, has called lawmakers to a November 21 presidential election in parliament but the session can only succeed if the country’s political chiefs agree first on a candidate.

The presidential election has already been postponed three times to give the rivals more time to agree on a president. The new head of state will be the first to be elected since Syria withdrew troops from Lebanon in 2005.

“A free and fair election of a new president according to constitutional rules without foreign interference is a milestone in the development of Lebanon,” said Ban, who will meet the rival leaders during his visit.

France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, is leading efforts to nudge the rivals towards a deal. Failure to reach an agreement would trigger an escalation in the country’s worst internal crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and could lead to two rival governments and .

Like the incumbent, the new president must be a Maronite Christian under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.

The head of the Maronite church has drawn up a list of presidential candidates, Lebanese media reported on Thursday. Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir had been asked to produce the list from which Berri and majority leader Saad Hariri will pick a leader as part of the French initiative.

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