Middle East
Lebanon presidency deadlock eases
Majority political bloc says it would support army chief as consensus candidate.
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2007 16:18 GMT
Suleiman is seen as a uniting figure by
many Lebanese politicians [AFP]
The commander of Lebanon's army has emerged as the candidate most likely to be agreed as the country's new president, officials say.
Parliamentarians from both the ruling majority and the opposition, which is led by the Shia Muslim party Hezbollah, said on Wednesday that General Michel Suleiman was being discussed as a compromise candidate.
"Both sides are working seriously to reach consensus on Michel Suleiman," Elias Atallah, an MP from the March 14 parliamentary majority bloc, said.
Ammar Houry, another majority MP, said there was agreement in March 14 to amend the constitution in order to allow Suleiman to become president.
'Unifying figure'
"We declare our acceptance to amend the constitution in order to reach consensus on the name of the army commander, General Michel Suleiman," he said.

General Michel Sulieman

The Hezbollah-led opposition has not yet officially endorsed Suleiman as an agreeable candidate.
At present, Lebanon's constitution stipulates that senior public servants can only run for the presidency two years after resigning from their post.

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Suleiman is seen as a uniting figure, who both sides can support.
Most politicians appear to view him as a relatively neutral player, bearing in mind that the Lebanese public view the army as one of the country's most effective state organs.
Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Beirut, said Suleiman could be a bridge between the majority and the opposition.
"For both parties he has been enough of a strong man to stand his ground and to make sure the army is not involved in this political crisis. All of Lebanon is divided except for the army," she said.
"Another point is the fact that he battled the Islamic militants in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in the north for three months and for many Lebanese this was a major success and they love him for it."

Presidential deadlock

Lebanon is currently without a president after a fifth parliamentary vote to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud failed.

In the absence of a head of state, the government of Fouad Siniora, Lebanon's prime minister, has assumed the  duties of the presidential office.

Siniora has said that the government will not push through any major measures while it holds the presidential office after the opposition, which is also know as the March 8 bloc, called the move unconstitutional.

Harb, a presidential candidate for the majority,
says he is against constitutional amendments
Parliament is scheduled to reconvene on Friday to pick a successor to Lahoud but several officials said that session was not likely to go ahead as more time was needed to agree on Suleiman's candidacy.

The current crisis began last November when Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, pulled five of its MPs from the cabinet in order to gain more representation in government.

Hezbollah dropped its initial demand for a government of national unity in exchange for the election of a president favourable to its resistance activities against Israel, Lebanon’s southern neighbour.

However, the feuding sides have not been able to reach agreement on a president, threatening the prospect of two rival governments being set up.

Two rival administrations battled against each other in the final days of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Constitutional concerns

Despite the optimism from some MPs over Suleiman becoming a declared compromise candidate on which both sides could then vote into power, some are uneasy about making changes to Lebanon’s constitution.

Special report

"I am personally opposed to Suleiman's nomination as it would be against democratic principles," Boutros Harb, a March 14 MP member and a declared presidential candidate, said.

"I have nothing against him personally ... but his appointment would amount to prostituting the constitution once again."

Harb was referring to a Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment in 2004 that extended Lahoud's six-year presidential term for another three years.

Mohammad Fneish, a Hezbollah MP said that the party's agreement of Suleiman as president was dependent on the agreement of Michel Aoun, the March 8 bloc's preferred candidate.

The presidential crisis is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States against Iran and Syria.

The majority bloc is supported by the US while the opposition draws support from Iran and Syria.

Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in 2005 after 29 years in the country, amid an international outcry over the assassination Rafiq al-Hariri, a former prime minister.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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