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World News

Lebanon must choose consensus president -candidates

BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Lebanese president elected unilaterally by the anti-Syrian majority in parliament will split Lebanon further and could bring chaos and even war, two presidential hopefuls warn.

Parliament in Lebanon, embroiled in its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, faces the divisive task of electing a successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. His term expires on Nov. 23.

The anti-Syrian majority coalition has threatened to elect a president outside the 128-seat parliament by a simple majority vote -- which it has -- if there is no agreement on a compromise candidate with the opposition, led by Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

“Electing a president through a 50 percent plus 1 vote is not electing a president, it’s electing a person that will assure chaos in the country,” presidential hopeful and former Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz told Reuters.

“What’s certain is electing a president (by 50+1) on Nov. 22 or a day, or two, or three before time elapses, will mean war,” he said. “But not electing a president even if we miss the constitutional deadline will keep the door open for solutions, to elect a consensus president a week or two or three later.”

The opposition and even some members of the governing coalition, supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia, say the move is unconstitutional since parliament needs a two-thirds majority to elect a president in the first round of voting.

The majority has 68 MPs in parliament but some members of the coalition have said they would boycott any session to elect a new head of state that did not have a two-thirds quorum.

POLITICAL MANEUVERS

One of those MPs is Robert Ghanem, a candidate who is running without the full endorsement of his allies.

“A vote through 50+1 will push Lebanon into areas we don’t want to go to. This would equal vacuum, if not even more dangerous than vacuum,” Ghanem said in a separate interview.

“I will not participate in (such a) vote. I will not be a running candidate and I will not participate in the election because I consider this to be the entry point for more struggles,” he said.

The presidential vote has been delayed once after opposition MPs boycotted parliament on Sept. 25. The rival factions are now scrambling in a frenzy of shuttle diplomacy to try to secure a deal before the next session on Oct. 23.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s supporters want to replace Lahoud with one of their own since Syrian troops left Lebanon in 2005 after the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

But Hezbollah and its allies in the opposition want to keep the presidency out of the hands of their adversaries, whom they regard as puppets of Washington.

Boueiz said the majority coalition’s talk of electing a president unilaterally may be only a “political manoeuvre” but he warned it could get out of hand.

Ghanem warned that the opposition could respond in an equally provocative way if the governing coalition unilaterally votes for a president, further polarising the country.

“They could ... build on the unconstitutionality and illegality of the president by taking other measures that are also unconstitutional, therefore entering into struggles on the ground which could be very dangerous.”

Lahoud, like the opposition, considers Siniora’s government illegitimate ever since six pro-Syrian ministers walked out 10 months ago in protest against the majority coalition’s refusal to give the opposition more power.

Lahoud has said he would not turn powers over to Siniora’s government if his term expires before a new president is elected, paving the way for establishing two rival governments competing for power.

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