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Lebanon Presidential Vote To Be Delayed Again

By Challiss McDonough

Lebanon Presidential Vote to be Delayed Again, Consensus in Sight

Prominent Lebanese opposition leader Michel Aoun says he will back the presidential candidacy of the country's army chief. The move brings Lebanon a step closer to ending the political vacuum that started last week when the two main factions were unable to agree on a compromise candidate after the last president's term ended.

Lebanese politicians say the presidential vote scheduled for Friday will likely be postponed to allow for talks on a compromise that would make Army chief General Michel Suleiman the next president.

Under Lebanon's confessional system, the president must be a Maronite Christian. The post has been vacant since last Friday, when former President Emile Lahoud's term expired.

Lebanon's rival political factions have been unable to agree on a successor, and the parliamentary vote to choose a new president has already been delayed five times.

But the growing consensus on General Suleiman as the next president took a step forward when Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun said he would support the general's candidacy.

If the factions agree on Suleiman, the constitution must be amended to allow a sitting army chief to become president.

Aoun said he hopes that after the constitutional obstacles are removed, General Suleiman will be the candidate.

Aoun had wanted the presidency himself, and he is still officially the candidate backed by Hezbollah, which leads the opposition coalition. But Aoun's announcement may clear the way for a compromise that could end the political vacuum.

Aoun earlier agreed to withdraw his candidacy if the ruling coalition agrees to a set of conditions, including a two-year term for the new president and the naming of a neutral prime minister. The ruling March 14 coalition has rejected those demands.

Political science professor Sami Baroudi of Lebanese American University says Aoun has not really changed his stance or his conditions for supporting a consensus candidate. But he also says Aoun seems to be acknowledging that he will not be the next president, and that, says Baroudi, is a positive step.

"I think it was a clear sign that he cannot be identified as the person derailing this process towards a consensus president," he said.

General Suleiman has good relations with Hezbollah, and the ruling March 14 group has previously objected to his candidacy. But the group dropped its objections on Wednesday, and now sees him as the best option for ending the political stalemate.


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