Lebanon crisis derails vote for 16th time

Lebanon’s presidential election was postponed to March 25 from Tuesday, the Parliament speaker said on Monday, the 16th delay of a vote derailed by the worst political crisis since the 1975 to 1990 civil war.

The new election date set by speaker Nabih Berri is just four days before an Arab summit in Damascus, which some leaders are not expected to attend unless the Lebanon crisis is resolved.

The crisis has paralysed much of the government, left the presidency vacant since November and led to bouts of lethal street violence in a country still rebuilding from its 15-year civil war.

It has also poisoned ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria, which back opposing sides in the conflict.

Riyadh supports the Beirut governing coalition, along with Western countries including the United States, while Syria and its ally, Iran, back the opposition alliance led by Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Jordan’s King Abdullah are not expected to attend the March 29 to 30 Arab summit unless a Lebanese president is elected and attends.

The Lebanese rivals have agreed that army chief General Michel Suleiman should fill the presidency, vacant since the term of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud expired in November.

But Suleiman’s confirmation by Parliament has been repeatedly derailed by a dispute over the make-up of a Cabinet to be formed after his election.

Parliament cannot convene to elect the president unless there is a deal between the rival camps that will secure a quorum for the vote.

Berri, a leading figure in the opposition, told pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Lebanon was in a state of “great paralysis”.

“He said that he is betting on the possibility of a breakthrough in the Arab situation, which will help to budge matters before the summit,” the paper said.—Reuters


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