BEIRUT (AFP) — A parliamentary session to elect a new president in Lebanon was postponed on Monday for an eighth time, with a new date set for December 17, parliament speaker Nabih Berri said.
"The office of the speaker has decided to postpone tomorrow's session to next Monday," a statement said.
The postponement was necessary "in order to allow for more consultation to agree on the election of a new president for the country," it added.
The decision marked the eighth time a session in parliament to elect a successor to President Emile Lahoud has been postponed since he stepped down on November 23 with the Western-backed ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition unable to agree on a candidate to succeed him.
The statement by Berri's office came minutes after MPs from the ruling coalition announced a boycott of Tuesday's session amid refusal by the opposition to amend the constitution to allow the army chief to be elected president.
"The March 14 parliamentary majority believes that (Tuesday's) parliamentary session will not produce anything but further undermine the credibility of the democratic process," the statement said.
"The parliamentary session scheduled to take place December 11 must be devoted to amending the constitution to elect a president for the country.
"In the absence of this, the deputies of the March 14 majority will not go to parliament to express their rejection of any attempt to violate the constitution," the statement added.
The majority and the opposition have agreed to give the post to General Michel Sleiman, but they are bickering over how to amend the constitution to allow for his election and over the make-up of a new cabinet.
Article 49 of the constitution stipulates that an acting senior public servant cannot be elected president unless 10 MPs petition parliament for a constitutional amendment.
The amendment would then have to be approved by two-thirds of parliament and also endorsed by the government.
But the opposition considers the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora illegitimate and pulled six of its ministers from the cabinet in November last year, demanding a more representative line-up.
Independent MP Robert Ghanem and fellow lawmaker Bahige Tabbara, a former justice minister, have sent a draft petition to Berri, a key opposition figure, in the hope that it would be signed by 10 deputies, five from each camp.
"The petition... is in president Berri's hands," Ghanem told AFP earlier, adding however that he expected Tuesday's session to be postponed for lack of agreement between the two parties.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, predicted the session would be delayed again because the two sides were still far apart on how to amend the constitution.
"There is also still disagreement on an overall political understanding between the opposition and the majority, including on the new electoral law, the constitutional council and the next government," Kanaan told AFP.
The opposition insists that a presidential vote must be preceded by an overall agreement on key political issues, including the shape of the next government.
But the majority says that political matters should be discussed within national institutions such as parliament and the government after the election.
The standoff is Lebanon's worst internal crisis since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war and is widely seen as an extension of the regional confrontation pitting the United States against Syria and Iran.
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