Deal within sight

 

The call for a new session on December 11 shows that two sides are within reach of a broad power-sharing agreement that would ensure a two-thirds quorum for parliament to elect Suleiman.

      

Direct talks between the ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition, brokered by Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, this week, have failed to clinch a deal on how to amend the constitution to allow Suleiman to take the job.

   

Special report

Michel Aoun, the Christian opposition leader, who has his own demands, has also yet to give his consent.

   

"Things are moving in the right direction, but more time is needed," one political source said.

   

The presidency, reserved for a Maronite Christian under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, has been empty since Emile Lahoud, the president, left office on November 23.

 

Consensus candidate

   

Suleiman, 59, emerged as the consensus choice after al-Hariri and his allies dropped their insistence on electing a candidate clearly opposed to Syrian influence in Lebanon.

   

The army commander, who is on good terms with Hezbollah, was appointed to his post in 1998 when Syria had military control of Lebanon.

   

"Things are moving in the right direction, but more time is needed"

Lebanese political source

Nevertheless, he has gained respect across the political spectrum for keeping the army neutral and curbing outbreaks of civil strife.

   

If elected, Suleiman will have to tread carefully if he aims to be a more unifying president than Lahoud, also a former army chief, whose term was extended in 2004 at Syria's request.

   

Electing a president would help defuse a political crisis involving Western-backed factions and Hezbollah, allied to Syria and Iran, that has paralysed Lebanon for more than a year.

   

French mediation

   

Al-Hariri and Berri, who heads the Shia-led opposition faction Amal, have met in the past few days in the presence of Kouchner, who has been mediating talks in an effort to break the deadlock.

   

They have discussed electing Suleiman, reshaping the next government and a new parliamentary election law in 2009.

   

Sources say Aoun wants a PM from a neutral background [AFP] 

Political sources said one obstacle was a demand by Aoun, Hezbollah's main Christian ally, that the next prime minister will have come from a neutral background.

   

Aoun wants enough seats in the next cabinet to reflect the size of his parliamentary bloc, the biggest Christian faction.

   

The rival camps also remain at odds over exactly how to amend the constitution, which bans senior public servants from running for office, to allow Suleiman to be elected.

   

Berri wants the amendment to bypass Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, while al-Hariri insists any move should go through his government.

 

The opposition says Siniora's cabinet is not legitimate since all Shia Muslim ministers left it last year.