Lebanon News

Sfeir warns against moves that could divide Lebanon

BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir warned on Tuesday against electing Lebanon's next president with a simple majority of half-plus-one of MPs in the first electoral session, saying such a move risks splitting the country in half. Sfeir said he accepts the idea of amending the Constitution if it is in the national interest to elect an individual to the presidency "in whose hands lies the salvation of the country."

"There are those who talk of boycotting presidential elections, this is unfair and disastrous for the country," Sfeir said from Diman on Tuesday. "Elections must proceed in accordance with the Constitution, with two thirds of MPs in the first session, and after that maybe with half-plus-one of MPs," Sfeir added.

He said if from the first electoral session a simple majority is adopted to elect a president the other side could claim this to be a violation of the Constitution which would prompt them to respond similarly.

"Thus we would get two presidents, two governments, two Lebanons and so on, which would be ruinous for the country as a whole," Sfeir said.

Sfeir said that in Lebanon a constitutional amendment occurs at every juncture, a harmful process, adding that only the national interest should warrant an amendment.

"Lately some said that maybe the army commander would want to be president if everyone agreed to his candidacy, which would require an amendment. We said if the salvation of the country lies with a certain individual, then the Constitution can be amended to save the country," he said.

He reiterated that a president should be at equal distance from all political parties, to have experience in political matters and not take orders from anyone but take decisions on his own.

President Emile Lahoud said Tuesday that a president should have the support and backing of most of the Lebanese and should be elected in accordance with the Constitution. He also insisted that a quorum of two thirds is required in the first electoral session of Parliament. Lahoud said he would hand over power to a person who would protect and preserve principles that consolidate national unity and prevent Lebanon from teetering on the verge of chaos.

Justice Minister Charles Rizk said that no candidate supported by one group, or by one bloc and not the other will have a chance to be elected president. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Rizk said the presidency is not a prize to be won "nor a piece of cheese for those with big appetites."

Rizk said the presidency is a series of tough hurdles and challenges that only someone who has proved himself capable of facing may assume. He added that the UN tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in the slaying of former Premier Rafik Hariri is the first challenge facing any new president.

He said the second pressing issue for a president would be security and finding a solution to the weapons of the resistance by creating a Lebanese fighting force that would incorporate the resistance within its ranks, benefiting from its abilities and experience in fighting Israel.

Rizk said the third pressing issue would be to restore harmony among the Lebanese and build national unity through stimulating political life and re-evaluating the electoral law so that it meets the challenges of the age.

Speaker Nabih Berri is waiting for a response from the US administration over a number of questions he put to them through their ambassador concerning the presidential elections, the US position over a consensus candidate and their ideas on a possible solution. In light of these answers, the speaker could present new ideas for a solution to the current political impasse during a speech Friday, sources close to Berri told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

Arafat Hijazi, Berri's media adviser, said the speaker is waiting to hear from US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffery Feltman, who recently returned to Lebanon, but no meeting has been arranged. Media reports said the meeting would take place in the next 48 hours.

Berri is due to speak Friday afternoon in Baalbek to mark the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of Shiite leader Moussa al-Sadr.

Although Feltman did not meet with Berri on Tuesday, he met with Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh and Defense Minister Elias Murr.

Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Sergey Bukin discussed the upcoming presidential elections with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail on Tuesday, reaffirming Russia's support for a return of political stability to the country.

"We hope presidential elections will be held within the constitutional timeframe and in accordance with the Lebanese Constitution," Bukin told reporters after the meeting.

Bukin said the political wisdom of the Lebanese and their capacity to overcome more difficult situations leads Russia to be optimistic.

Siniora later met UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Gier Pedersen with whom he discussed the latest developments.

Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani called upon Arab and friendly countries Tuesday to continue their endeavors to find a solution to the political crisis and urged all those concerned with the presidential elections to hold them on time.

"It is not right to hinder presidential elections, Lebanon must not be faced with a [presidential] vacuum which could plunge the country into chaos and ruin," Qabbani said.

He also called for dialogue over the fate of the country that would be a means to settle unresolved issues used by some as an excuse to destabilize the country.

"What we see in Lebanon, from offensive language, to threats and accusations, is dangerous and risks the security and stability of Lebanon," Qabbani said, warning of the dangers of internal division and talk of separatism, adding that such would be disastrous for Lebanon.

Senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah said that Lebanon has become a regional and international arena of conflict, adding that the country is being used as a chess board in these conflicts.

Fadlallah, who met Belgian Ambassador to Lebanon Stephane De Loecker Tuesday, allayed certain fears by stressing that the Shiite community does not plan to set up a separate entity from other sects in Lebanon.

He said the Shiite community believes in Lebanon as a final homeland and works to protect it, while at the same time having friendly relations with certain Arab and Muslim countries.

"However, [the Shiites] refuse to be ruled by any of these countries, as we refuse subservience or submission to any regional or international axis," Fadlallah said.





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