Lebanese president urges leaders to name successor

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Associated Press

Posted on May 24, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Updated Saturday, May 24 at 11:35 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's president in his farewell speech to the nation on Saturday called on squabbling politicians to choose his successor, warning of the dangers of a political vacuum in the tiny Arab country.

The Lebanese are deeply split over the civil war in neighboring Syria and have lined up behind opposing sides in that conflict. Those deep divisions are among the reasons for the lack of agreement on a consensus candidate for the country's next president.

Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on Sunday but Lebanese politicians have not been able to agree on a successor. Five parliament sessions over several weeks have failed to elect a president because lawmakers allied with the militant Hezbollah group boycotted the meetings.

Lebanon is accustomed to political crisis and the country's government will take over until a new president is selected. The country went for months without a president before Suleiman, a former army commander, was elected in 2008.

But the absence of a president is chiefly a setback for Lebanon's Christian community, whose influence has significantly waned since the country's 1975-90 war. It also erodes Lebanon's fragile institutions that keep the country of several Christian and Muslim sects together.

Under Lebanon's power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.

For a parliament to elect the president, a two-thirds quorum — or 85 of the legislature's 128 members — is needed, but none of the sessions to choose Suleiman's successor met that requirement.

The selection is also influenced by international and regional actors backing rival factions, and presidents are elected only after securing the necessary regional support and consensus among Lebanon's political camps.

But consensus has been near impossible. The Shiite group Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, while most Lebanese Sunnis broadly support the armed uprising to overturn his rule.

Although he was elected six years ago as a consensus president, Suleiman became a harsh critic of Hezbollah's involvement in Syria and has called on the group's fighters to withdraw from the neighboring country.

Hezbollah politicians boycotted Saturday's ceremony at the presidential palace in a show of anger toward Suleiman.

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