BEIRUT: The Syrian opposition-in-exile umbrella group the National Coalition kicked off a scheduled three days of meetings in Istanbul Sunday to elect a new president and discuss the offensive by Islamic militants straddling Iraq and Syria.
Mustafa Osso said the coalition would pick a replacement for its current president, Ahmad Jarba, in a vote expected Tuesday.
Anti-regime news outlets had speculated in recent weeks that Jarba and his allies were seeking to engineer an extension of his term to avoid infighting over the group’s top post, although the reported efforts failed.
They reported that Sunday’s initial meeting was postponed by a few hours, with unnamed sources claiming that tension over the vote was to blame. However, coalition member Mohammad Kheir Wazir told a pro-opposition website that the delay was due to a problem with securing hotel reservations for participants in the three days of meetings.
Osso said the top two candidates for the job are senior coalition members Hadi Bahra and Muwaffaq Nairabieh, who belong to Jarba’s Democratic bloc.
Jarba, who was elected in July of last year, has already served two six-month terms, the maximum period allowed by the coalition.
Another simmering dispute is the power struggle pitting Jarba and his allies in the coalition against Ahmad Tohme, the head of the group’s provisional government.
The two sides have clashed recently over who should head the mainstream rebel force the Free Syrian Army.
The coalition Sunday issued a statement reiterating its stance on the matter, which it said will be up for discussion.
“The coalition will discuss the decision by Prime Minister Ahmad Tohme of the Provisional Government to dismiss the chief of staff [of the FSA] and the Military Council, which the Political Committee of the Coalition believes to be outside the prerogatives of the prime minister,” it said.
The statement said that in addition to a vote for a new president, the coalition would also elect three vice presidents, a secretary-general and a political committee. It added that the coalition would be “discussing the military changes in Syria and the region in general, and its impact on the course of revolution.”
Female members will also be pushing for a vote to institute a quota to ensure they make up 30 percent of the coalition members, said Mariam Jalabi, director of the group’s New York and United Nations offices.