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Lebanon's Parliament Puts Off Presidential Election Until October 23

Lebanon's parliament has failed to attain the required two-thirds quorum to elect the country's next president, forcing a postponement of the electoral session to October 23.  Edward Yeranian reports for the VOA from Beirut.

Draconian security measures closed down much of downtown Beirut Tuesday as Lebanese security forces and the army attempted to protect members of parliament on their way to and from the scheduled session of parliament.

It became quickly apparent that a two-thirds quorum needed to hold the election would not be reached, and a spokesman for Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced a new session would be held on October 23.

Member of parliament Hussein Hajj Hassan, representing the pro-Syrian Hezbollah, showed up to say his group was boycotting the session because no consensus had been reached on a candidate acceptable to the opposition and the pro-Western government coalition.

Deputy Speaker Farid Makari, representing the ruling coalition, told reporters that his parliamentary block had come to elect a president to, in his words, "spare Lebanon the danger of a constitutional void," if no president is elected.

The term of outgoing pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud does not officially end until November 23, leaving legislators two months to reach a compromise.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri, who is pro-Syrian, said he is optimistic and the atmosphere is positive after a meeting with Sa'ad Hariri, leader of the government's parliamentary coalition. 

Ali Hamdan, a spokesman for Berri's Amal Movement, blamed the ruling majority for the postponement, saying it was guilty of procrastination.

"The time that the majority took, and they waited to reply to the initiative of the speaker," he said.  "We waited too much time and that's why we couldn't get a solution before this and why we don't see a full quorum to hold the session."

Edmond Sa'ab, executive editor of Beirut's An Nahar newspaper says that despite the failed session, things are evolving in the right direction.

"I'm optimistic, because I met the speaker of the parliament on Wednesday; he's very optimistic after seeing the Maronite Patriarch; he will have an idea about the qualifications of the new president since the Patriarch is the principal voter in this election," he explained.

Lebanon's president is chosen from its largest Christian community, the Maronites.  The Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Nasrallah Butros Sfeir traditionally plays a major role in political decision-making for the group.

Sa'ab says the Maronite Patriarch and Parliament Speaker Berri will work things out, and an election will take place if two problems are overcome.

"I'm sure on two conditions: that the Americans and the Syrians will sit aside and let the Lebanese decide what President we'll be having, because these are two obstacles now that the speaker of parliament is facing," Sa'ab said.

The U.S. supports the ruling anti-Syrian coalition, which is opposed by Hezbollah and other pro-Syrian politicians.

Several anti-Syrian Christian candidates are running for the presidency against Christian leader Michel Aoun, who is backed by the pro-Syrian opposition.

Many Lebanese pundits are suggesting that the bad state of relations between the US and Syria, key players in Lebanon, are behind the apparent breakdown in the electoral process.

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