Lebanon majority plans petition to vote army chief as president

BEIRUT (AFP) — Lebanon's ruling majority is planning to draft a petition to amend the constitution in order to elect army chief General Michel Sleiman as president, Telecommunication Minister Marwan Hamadeh said on Monday.

"We are planning to draft a petition for the constitutional amendment," Hamadeh, an MP and prominent figure in the parliamentary majority, told AFP.

"We will have to gather the signatures of at least 10 MPs. But we are waiting to see the reaction of the opposition because we prefer to have signatures from our side and from the opposition," he said.

Sleiman's candidacy requires a change to the constitution as Article 49 bars public servants from assuming the presidency within two years of stepping down from their posts.

"There are contacts underway because we would rather have representativity and consensus on this matter," Hamadeh said. "It can be done very quickly or it can take a long time.

"It all depends on the goodwill of the opposition, but we don't want things to drag on," he added.

Hamadeh said if the opposition failed to sign the petition, the ruling March 14 coalition would go ahead on its own.

The standoff between the Western-backed government and the opposition -- supported by Syria and Iran -- has seen the repeated postponement of parliamentary sessions to elect a new president.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stood down at the end of his term on November 23.