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Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Postpones Election for 18th Time


The eighteenth consecutive session of Lebanon's parliament to elect a new president was postponed, yet again, today, by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, amid a political vacuum that has persisted since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ended on November 24. Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

The decision by pro-Syrian Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone Tuesday's electoral session of parliament came as a surprise to no one, and most political leaders appeared resigned to the outcome.

Ordinary citizens appeared cynical or even angry about the decision to postpone the vote, especially since the ongoing political vacuum has left Lebanon's economy in shambles.

Berri announced his decision to postpone by suggesting that President Bush has promised a "hot summer" for the Middle East, and that the only way to avoid chaos in Lebanon is for, in his words, "a national dialogue between all Lebanese factions."

He also insisted that neither the pro-Western government, nor the opposition pro-Syrian Hezbollah should expect any solution to Lebanon's crisis imposed from the outside.

"No one," he says, "should expect that a solution will be imposed from the East or from the West that will harm the status quo inside Lebanon, or would damage the system of power sharing that began with the Taef peace agreement (which ended Lebanon's civil war)," Berri said.

Member of Parliament Mustapha Allouche, representing the pro-government March 14 coalition, questioned why Berri was keeping parliament paralyzed.

"Berri is a member of the opposition," Allouche said. "Who is he to set conditions for a dialogue... and why do we need a dialogue? Why don't we just hold the vote?"

Arab diplomats are also holding a meeting in Kuwait, Tuesay, alongside a planned discussion on Iraq, to discuss what to do in Lebanon.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, in Kuwait, as well, to discuss how to resolve the Lebanese political crisis.

Both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and Saudi King Abdallah have pointed the finger at Syria, accusing it of responsibility in blocking a presidential election.

Paul Salem, Director of the Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East thinks that Lebanon's electoral paralysis reflects a wider regional conflict between pro-American forces and a Syro-Iranian axis:

"As an event in and of itself I think it was only of theatrical importance….because the log-jam is really related to the wider national and regional….I want to say "showdown" exactly, but kind of…..two big camps facing off….and waiting for somebody to make a move….or waiting for something to change," Salem said.

He also believes that Lebanon will not have a president, this year, and that things may deteriorate if either Hezbollah decides to attack Israel in retaliation for the killing of military commander Imad Mugniyah, or if the UN tribunal determining responsibility in the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri, issues any accusations.

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