Lebanon: A State Lacking President

Lebanon: A State Lacking President

Lebanon woke up Saturday a state without a president, a government termed “illegitimate” by the Hizbullah-led opposition and an army guarding social order with consent of the feuding parties.
Foreign powers called for calm and speed up of efforts to elect a new head of state, while Iran cautioned that Lebanon is “so close to civil war.”


Former Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud left the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, ending a controversial term of nine years in office after Parliament failed to elect a successor hurling the nation into power vacuum.


“Lahoud”s term end to a republic without a president,” the daily an-Nahar headlined its front page.

“Political and security guarantees govern the transition era,” it added in the eight-column double headline.

“Lahoud walked out,” shouted al-Moustaqbal daily, which is affiliated with MP Saad Hariri, leader of the largest parliamentary bloc that opposed Lahoud.

“A republic without head .. protected by organized vacuum,” outlined as-Safir in its front-page banner.

An air of organized vacuum was evident in the streets of Beirut late Friday evening where partisans of Hariri”s al-Moustaqbal Movement celebrated the end of Lahoud”s term with fire crackers and chants of “Lahoud out, out” in Tarik Jedideh district while supporters of Hizbullah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri”s AMAL movement maintained calm in the adjacent district of Barbour.

An army captain in charge of checkpoints along the Kourniche Mazraa thoroughfare, which separates the two neighborhoods, told reporters: “Things are under control. Both sides know that we are here and we will not tolerate disturbances.”

Businesses and public institutions were open for normal services Saturday as calm prevailed over Lebanon, amidst calls by the United States, The European Union and the United Nations to maintain calm and speed up efforts to elect a new head of state.


The only difference observed, however, was that Lahoud”s pictures have been removed from offices of some government institutions in areas traditionally hostile to the ex-president and the pro-Syrian opposition.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday expressed deep concern over the Lebanon situation and said he “regrets” the failure by rival politicians to elect a successor to Lahoud.


Ban “regrets this development and urges all parties to maintain calm as well as to further intensify efforts to reach a compromise as soon as possible,” a statement said.


Noting that he was “deeply concerned at the fragility of the situation in Lebanon, the secretary general called on “all parties to live up to their responsibilities and act within the constitutional framework as well as in a peaceful and democratic manner.”


The Bush administration, on its part, urged all parties in Lebanon to remain calm and refrain from violence after the country”s parliament failed to elect a new president as required by the constitution.

A Parliamentary session to elect a new head of state was rescheduled for Nov. 30.

The U.S. State Department appealed for the Lebanese military and security services to uphold the rule of law and for political actors to negotiate.


The U.S. statement, however, noted that Premier Fouad Saniora”s majority government, labeled by Lahoud and the Hizbullah-led opposition as illegitimate, “will temporarily assume executive powers and responsibilities until a new president is elected by Lebanon”s Parliament.”


“This is the procedure stipulated by the Lebanese constitution and will ensure that the government is able to continue conducting its business without interruption,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in the statement.


“The United States government commends Lebanon”s armed forces and security services for their stated commitment to ensuring law and order during this interim period, and we urge all Lebanese political groups to do their part to maintain calm and promote security for Lebanon”s citizens,” he said.


The European Union also voiced regret that Lebanon failed to elect a new head of state and urged political factions to agree on a compromise.


“The EU Presidency notes with regret that it hasn”t been possible to elect a president of the Republic of Lebanon,” Portugal, current holder of the bloc”s rotating presidency, said in a statement.

“The EU Presidency appeals to all political parties to continue dialogue with a view to electing a president as soon as possible,” the statement said.

Portugal urged “all concerned to respect the Lebanese constitution and to abstain from all actions that could upset public order and the security of the citizens,” noting that that Lebanon”s stability is “important for the entire region”.


Saniora had rejected a controversial last minute measure by Lahoud ordering the army to enforce law and order after claiming that “risks of a state of emergency” prevail over the nation.

A statement issued by Saniora”s press office said the presidential measure is “not factual and not based on constitutional or legal authorities.”


It recalled that, constitutionally, only the government has the authority to declare a state of emergency, subject to revision by parliament in eight days.


Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa noted that the army was entrusted with the task of maintaining law and order days before the Lahoud declaration and the regular force is “carrying out its duties.”  


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