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Thursday, December 27, 2007 Lebanon legislators call for constitutional change to fill vacant presidency

Leading legislators from Lebanon’s majority party were expected to file a petition in parliament Thursday seeking a constitutional amendment to allow Gen. Michel Suleiman to become president of Lebanon. Under the current Lebanese constitution [text, in French], the presidency cannot be held by a sitting military commander . Anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian members of Lebanon’s parliament have been unable to reach agreement on who will replace former Lebanon leader Emile Lahoud, who left office at the end of his term on November 23 without a successor in place. The petition calls for a “one time” amendment to fill the immediate presidential vacancy, and comes three days after the government presented a draft law to parliament proposing the same constitutional amendment. The draft cannot become law unless the Lebanese parliament approves it, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri has said he will not consider draft legislation from an “illegitimate” government.

Lahoud purported to declare a “state of emergency” and hand security responsibility to the army in a vaguely worded statement issued just before leaving office. The emergency was immediately rejected by the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, 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. Article 62 moreover provides that presidential powers revert to the government if the office of president falls vacant.

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