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Lebanese Presidential Impasse

Five times this year presidential elections in the Lebanese Parliament have been postponed. And there is little optimism that the next session, scheduled for November 30, will produce a candidate acceptable to Lebanon’s two major political blocs. However, opposition leader Michel Aoun just announced that he would back the country’s army chief, General Michel Suleiman, as a compromise candidate. The constitution currently bars the sitting head of the armed forces from moving directly to the presidency. However, the majority party is now indicating it might be willing to accept a constitutional amendment that would allow a “senior public servant” to serve as president.

A yearlong power struggle between the Hezbollah-led opposition and the anti-Syrian bloc in Parliament came to a climax on November 23, when pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term expired. The five electoral postponements have been called because the two main political blocs have repeatedly failed to agree on a candidate.

Hanna Anbar, associate publisher of the Beirut Daily Star, says there is a lot of apprehension on the street over the latest political crisis. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Anbar says what worries the average Lebanese citizen most about the current crisis are its economic consequences, and Lebanese society has been left in a state of “paralysis.”

However, some regional analysts voiced the hope that Syria’s participation in this week’s Mideast conference in Annapolis would advance a resolution to Lebanon’s presidential stalemate. Indeed President Bush said Tuesday that the United States would continue to support the Lebanese people and that democracy in Lebanon is “vital” for peace in the Middle East. He urged that the Lebanese people be allowed to elect a president in an atmosphere “free from outside interference and intimidation,” a not-so-veiled warning to Damascus that it should not meddle in the Lebanese presidential selection process.

But Pierre Rousselin, foreign editor of Le Figaro, suggests that Syrian participation in the Annapolis conference might yield some political benefits down the line. Nadia Bilbassy, diplomatic correspondent with Al-Arabiya television agrees with Mr. Rousslin that any progress involving Syria would have to take place “behind the scenes.” Furthermore, she notes that what is most important is not what transpired at the recent conference in Annapolis but what happens afterward.

According to Hanna Anbar, the Lebanese are “famous” for waiting for outside developments or for other countries to help resolve their political crises. But all the outside “meddling,” whether by Syria or the West, he notes, has failed to break the impasse. Mr. Anbar says that he, like many other Lebanese of his generation, is weary of leading a life marked not by the “good things in life,” but punctuated by “wars and civil strife.” Meanwhile, outside observers continue to worry that Lebanon is facing dangerous scenarios, which range from a political vacuum to civil war.