Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back to square one

Dec.19, 2007

Back to square one in Lebanon

With the postponement of Lebanon's presidential election for a ninth time on Monday, to Dec.22, the country has moved to what could be seen as a make-or-break point in efforts to salvage itself from factional strife.
The rival groups stood firm on their positions on Monday despite international efforts, including a last-ditch US move, to convince them to proceed to a vote and avoid plunging the country into further chaos.
It is not as if they do not agree on who should be the next president of Lebanon. They simply disagree on how to go through the constitutional process to elect army chief Michel Suleiman as the country's president to succeed Emile Lahoud, who stepped down at the end of his term with no elected successor last month.
The tug-of-war has deep political implications. The opposition does not want to give "legitimacy" to the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora by involving it in the constitutional process. The government is determined not to allow that to happen because it is very survival is at stake in the power struggle since the opposition insists on replacing it and having a say in deciding who would lead a new government and how many cabinet seats each camp would get.
There was hope until Monday that increased American and French pressure had led to a compromise that would see Suleiman being installed as president. However, as Christian leader Samir Geagea explained, it was only a rumour that was floated at easing the tension created by the American and French pressure.
Obviously, it would mean that the various parties involved do not have any serious intention to accept any compromise. They simply want to ward off pressure.
There was little public sign of either side stepping back on Monday although some politicians insisted that a solution could be found.
The government and opposition have five days to work on a solution. It is doubtful that they would to work out compromise in five days to solve a problem that has haunted the country for months now.
Surely, the feuding groups must have their own plans on how to go about if they did not have their way by Dec.22. However, they should realise that missing the deadline could create new facts on the ground that could make a compromise all the more difficult and perhaps even push the country beyond the brink towards civil strife.
The future of Lebanon is indeed at stake and it is the duty of the feuding politicians not to let that reality fade into the background as they pursue their conflicting agendas.