By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BEIRUT, Lebanon – On November 23, the Lebanese parliament postponed the election of a president for a fifth time – until November 30. This meant that later that day, when current President Lahoud’s term ended, Lebanon was left without a president. As Lahoud vacated the presidential palace, he declared a state of emergency and handed security powers to the Lebanese Army, lead by General Michel Suleiman.
However, following this announcement, Prime Minister Siniora rejected Lahoud’s declaration of a state of emergency, stating that it was unconstitutional since the required cabinet approval was not given. Instead, Siniora claims that the cabinet acts as a caretaker until a new president is elected by the parliament. Still, over 20,000 Lebanese soldiers are deployed in and around Beirut to prevent and contain any factional fighting. During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel and the conflict against militants this summer, the army gained respect within Lebanon as a neutral institution.
Currently, Lebanese politics are divided between two main factions: pro-Syrian and pro-Western. The pro-Syrian faction includes former President Lahoud and Shia groups such as Hezbollah; and receives support from Syria and Iran. The pro-Western faction includes current Prime Minister Siniora and receives support from the US and Saudi Arabia.
For the past year, tensions between the two groups have grown and resulted in the resignation of several parliament and cabinet members. For the past few months, Hezbollah party members and pro-Syrian members have been boycotting parliamentary elections, preventing the necessary quorum, thus making any result unconstitutional. Pro-Syrians also claim that the government is unconstitutional, following the resignation of five pro-Syrian members. The current situation has prompted fears that a parallel government will be created and that a political power struggle between the two will result in a second civil war.
Following the end of Lahoud’s presidency and the ensuing presidential vacuum, both sides have agreed to maintain the relative peace and stability until the scheduled election on November 30. Each side maintains that the most important goal right now is security and for a peaceful resolution. However, Hezbollah has complicated the situation by demanding that the next president support the group’s fight against Israel. While the pro-Western government currently does not have relations with Israel, it is hesitant to provoke hostilities with their neighbor.
Some analysts believe that the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis will help resolve the conflict. Some believe that Syria is purposely delaying the election and is waiting to see what happens in Annapolis. If Syria is allowed to be a major player in the discussions, it is thought that they will be more likely to pressure the opposition to agree on a president.
For more information, please see:
Associated Press – Hezbollah adds new demand in Lebanon – 25 November 2007
Reuters – Hezbollah raises specter of long Lebanon power void – 25 November 2007
Telegraph – Hezbollah recruits thousands in Lebanon crisis – 25 November 2007
Associated Press – Political crisis deepens in Lebanon – 24 November 2007
BBC – Lebanon faces power vacuum threat – 24 November 2007
Guardian – Lebanon’s president hands power to army – 24 November 2007
Middle East Times – Lebanon in constitutional void – 24 November 2007
New York Times – Vote is postponed as Lebanese president leaves – 24 November 2007
The Press Association – Army in control, says Lebanese PM – 24 2007
Reuters – Lebanese PM says cabinet assumes presidential powers – 24 November 2007
BBC – Lebanese presidency ends in chaos – 23 November 2007
International Herald Tribune – With Lebanon in political turmoil, army emerges as nation’s last line of defense – 23 November 2007