BEIRUT (AFP) — A 12th parliamentary session to elect Lebanon's president was postponed on Friday to January 21 despite intense international efforts for rival parties to agree on an Arab League compromise.
"Saturday's session has been postponed until Monday, January 21 at noon," Ali Hamdan, spokesman for parliament speaker Nabih Berri, told AFP.
He said Berri decided to delay the session after meeting with Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who has been holding marathon talks with Lebanese leaders since Wednesday in hopes they would agree on an Arab plan to end the presidential crisis.
"Because the negotiations are ongoing, the speaker decided to postpone the vote," Hamdan said.
Mussa was expected to leave Beirut on Saturday.
Officials from both the ruling Western-backed majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition had earlier predicted that the vote would not take place due to the continued standoff between the two sides.
"Everything indicates that tomorrow's (Saturday's) session will meet the same fate as the 11 previous ones and be postponed," Elias Atallah, a deputy with the ruling majority, told AFP.
Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23 with no elected successor because of bitter rivalry between the pro- and anti-Syrian camps.
The Arab initiative is based on a three-point plan that calls for the election of army chief General Michel Sleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government in which no one party has veto power and the adoption of a new electoral law.
Although the ruling coalition has given the plan its full backing, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah is insisting the opposition be granted a third of the seats in a new 30-member government so as to have veto power over key decisions.
The Arab plan calls for the majority to hold 14 seats in the new cabinet, the opposition 10 seats and Sleiman would be able to pick six ministers, making him the arbiter in any contested decisions.
The political crisis that has paralysed the country began in November 2006 after the opposition pulled its six ministers from the cabinet of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in a bid to gain more representation.
Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies, predicted the stalemate would continue possibly until the 2009 legislative elections, when the opposition could win the majority in parliament.
"There are a lot of regional issues at stake that have a bearing on the situation in Lebanon, including upcoming legislative elections in Iran, the US elections, and the Arab summit to be held in Syria in March," he told AFP.
"I think we will remain without a president until the legislative elections in Lebanon in 2009."
The crisis between the two camps is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting Washington and its allies against Syria and Iran.
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