The Lebanese parliament failed Friday to elect a head of state before pro-Syrian Lahoud's term expires at midnight, local time. The speaker of parliament asked members to meet again next Friday for another attempt.
The move leaves the country in a political vacuum, a situation many fear could erupt into violence between supporters of the government and the opposition in the divided country.
The presidency is the latest focal point in the power struggle between the anti-Syrian coalition in Lebanon's parliament and the opposition, led by Syria and Iran's ally, Hezbollah. Anti-Syrian lawmakers have tried to position one of their own to replace Lahoud -- a staunch ally of Damascus -- as president but have been blocked by opposition boycotts of the legislature. Recent French-led mediation efforts failed to broker a compromise.
"We have no choice but to have a consensus," Saad Hariri, leader of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, said after the failed session, according to the Associated Press. "It is not in Lebanon's interest that the (presidential) palace is left empty."
The president cannot declare a state of emergency without approval from the government, but Lahoud's spokesman said Saniora's government became illegitimate after the departure of pro-Syrian Cabinet members a year ago.
"The president of the republic declares that because a state of emergency exists all over the land as of Nov. 24, 2007, the army is instructed to preserve security all over the Lebanese territory and places all the armed forces at its disposal," presidential spokesman Rafik Shalala said, according to news agencies.
Saniora's government rejected the announcement.
"It has no value and is unconstitutional and consequently it is considered as if it was not issued," a government spokesman, who asked not to be identified because an official announcement has not yet been made by the prime minister, told the AP.
Despite the rising political turmoil, there was no sign that the conflict would immediately lead to violence. The military has been on alert for several days, deploying hundreds of troops, armored personnel carriers and jeeps along intersections leading to Beirut and around the downtown parliament building.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for all parties in Lebanon's political crisis Friday to maintain calm and work for a compromise on electing a president as soon as possible, Reuters reported.
"The secretary-general urges all parties to live up to their responsibilities and to act within the constitutional framework as well as in a peaceful and democratic manner," Ban's spokeswoman said in a statement.