Lebanon's election scramble goes down to the wire. Gemayel visits Syria seeking candidate acceptable to all
Lebanese President Amin Gemayel flew on a surprise visit to Damascus yesterday in what was seen as a last-ditch effort to avert a major political crisis over electing his successor. Deadlock had been reached over the special session of the Lebanese parliament called for today, the last possible date to elect a new president. Mr. Gemayel's term ends tomorrow.
Many Lebanese have expressed the fear that failure to elect a new president could consecrate Lebanon's partition among its various religious sects.
Syria, which seeks to guide events in Lebanon, wants a pro-Syrian candidate to fill the traditionally Christian-held post. But major Christian factions oppose both Syria's influence and its attempts to increase the political power of Lebanon's Muslims at the Christians' expense.
US envoys, who have been involved on behalf of the Christians, reportedly persuaded the Syrians last week to suspend their support for former President Suleiman Franjieh, whose bid for the presidency was foiled by hostile Christian factions at an abortive parliamentary session last month.
According to officials in Beirut, the US delegation and the Syrians agreed to support parliament member Mikhail Daher. But the ``Lebanese Forces'' Christian militia, whose officials had earlier said they regarded Mr. Daher as the real ``Syrian candidate,'' rejected the proposal and vowed to resist what they termed a president ``nominated and imposed by outsiders.''
Gemayel's talks with Syrian President Hafez Assad yesterday were seen as highly significant in themselves. It was his first visit to Damascus in nearly three years. The two men have been alienated since Gemayel joined forces with the hard-line Christian militia leader, Samir Geagea, to foil Syrian machinations in Lebanon in January 1986.
Today's election session appeared doomed until Gemayel's unexpected departure for Damascus raised hopes that an eleventh-hour compromise might be reached. Many Christian deputies had backed the militia's resistance to Daher's nomination.