The political crisis in Lebanon between pro- and anti-Syrian factions is about to come to a climax, with fears the outcome could split the country into two competing governments if a compromise cannot be reached by Friday to replace the outgoing president. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more on the situation.
A yearlong power struggle between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the anti-Syrian majority bloc in parliament comes to a head Friday at midnight. That's when pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term expires.
A vote to elect his successor was slated for September, but has been postponed four times, most recently on Wednesday. It is now set for Friday afternoon. The postponements have been called because the two main political blocs cannot agree on the choice of a presidential candidate.
If the rival blocs fail to reach a deal on a consensus candidate, analysts say three possible scenarios could emerge.
The first possibility is outgoing-President Lahoud could hand power to a caretaker government that would include the military, while negotiations on a presidential candidate continue.
In the second scenario, anti-Syrian Prime Minister Fuad Siniora would stay on in a caretaker capacity, with limited duties.
Third, and most controversial, would be for the majority bloc in parliament to elect a presidential candidate with a simple majority vote. The Hezbollah-led opposition would certainly oppose this and it could lead to their establishing their own rival government.
Karim Makdisi, professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut, says any of these scenarios could play out.
"These kinds of decisions are being prepared and everyone is waiting to see who is going to blink, and if we get to Friday night and nothing has happened then we see what happens the following day. But any of these possibilities are perfectly likely," he said.
Lebanon was locked in a civil war from 1975 until 1990, and some fear the establishment of two rival governments could lead to a repeat of that violence. Hanna Anbar, Editor of the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star disagrees.
"Nobody has an interest in civil strife," he said. "Nobody. And anybody who talks about it is [talking] politics now trying to put pressure on the other side."
A flurry of international diplomacy has surrounded the current crisis. The Europeans and Arabs are working hard to make sure the election happens Friday and a consensus candidate is elected. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has been in Beirut all week and is being joined by his Spanish and Italian counterparts as well as Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing arrangement requires that the president be a Maronite Christian. Several figures have been discussed as possibilities. The current leading candidate is former minister Michel Eddé who is in his eighties. Professor Makdisi says Eddé has good relations with both factions.
"He is an intellectual. He is someone who is held in good regard. He is someone people respect in general. He is fairly close to the [Maronite] patriarch, and so does not step on anybody's toes particularly," he explained.
But the Daily Star's Anbar says Eddé's candidacy is not certain, and anything could still happen.
"I could go on until the morning about all kinds of rumors and formulas that are circulating. It all boils down to one word: nothing has been decided and nothing has been agreed upon as of now," he explained.
But even if the rival factions hammer out their differences and elect a compromise candidate Friday, the political crisis in Lebanon will not be over, it will simply enter a new phase. The new president will have to appoint a new prime minister and cabinet, and that government will have to agree on a statement of its policy, including its position on U.N. resolutions on disarming Hezbollah and establishing an international tribunal to try the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Subjects that are certain to give the parties plenty to argue over.