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Saturday, December 08, 2007 Lebanon presidency deal hits constitutional roadblock

An emerging deal to select a new Lebanese president ran into a roadblock Friday as political factions in Lebanon’s parliament failed to agree on mechanisms for changing a problematic constitutional provision. The favored candidate to replace now ex-president Emile Lahoud is Gen. Michel Suleiman, but under the present Lebanese constitution the presidency cannot be held by a sitting military commander. Anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian groups in parliament disagree on how to address the problem: the pro-Syrian groups refuse to endorse any government-sponsored amendment to the constitution as they feel such an endorsement would be seen as a legitimation of the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and supporters of Siniora do not want to leave the matter to parliament generally as they fear that would weaken Sinoria’s already somewhat marginal position.

Lahoud purported to declare a “state of emergency” and hand security responsibility to the army November 23 in a vaguely worded statement issued just before leaving office at midnight that day at the end of his term without an elected successor in place. The emergency was immediately rejected by the the Siniora government, which noted through a spokesman that Lebanon’s constitution did not permit the president to declare a state of emergency without obtaining the approval of the government under Article 65. Its Article 62 moreover provides that presidential powers revert to the government if the office of president falls vacant.