BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said Tuesday Dialogue among rival political leaders was essential for saving Lebanon from “dangers” sweeping across the region and called for next year’s presidential elections to be held on time.
Sleiman’s plea comes as the March 8 and March 14 leaders have failed to heed his repeated calls to resume National Dialogue, stalled since September last year, aimed at defusing political and sectarian tensions stoked by national divisions over the 31-month war in neighboring Syria.
It also comes amid growing fears that in the absence of consensus among the rival politicians on a new president, Parliament would not be able to meet to elect a successor to Sleiman when his six-year-term in office expires in May next year, a development that would throw the country into a presidential vacuum.
“We must be faithful to our democracy and respect constitutional deadlines, at the forefront of which is the next presidential elections,” Sleiman said in a speech during a ceremony marking the opening of an expansion project at Beirut Port.
He also called for parliamentary elections to be held on time based on the distribution of parliamentary seats equally between Muslims and Christians and the participation of all sects in running the country’s public affairs. “ Lebanon will remain an example of the most diversified country,” he said.
Parliament extended its mandate by 17 months on May 31 after lawmakers had failed to agree on a new electoral law to conduct the elections originally planned for last June.
Referring to the Cabinet crisis, now in its seventh month with no solution in sight, and the paralysis in the legislature, Sleiman called for the formation of a new government and reviving Parliament’s meetings in order to launch “national reform” and stamp out corruption in the public administration.
“I say a word from the heart to everyone: Let us safeguard our country and our unity for which we have paid dearly,” the president said. “Let us reconcile with ourselves and take faster steps in fighting corruption and safeguarding institutions ... Let us put political differences aside and agree on saving our country through Dialogue and acceptance of others.”
“Political leaders must continue Dialogue and consultations to agree on a national vision, development plans and priorities of the public policy, while accepting the rule of the law and the Constitution,” he added.
Referring to the turmoil in the region as a result of popular upheavals and addressing the rival Lebanese leaders, Sleiman said: “Storms will not endure but they always leave behind ruins and destruction. Fear God and spare Lebanon the dangers sweeping across our environment before the storms turn into floods from which no one will be safe.”
The parliamentary Future bloc also reiterated its call for the formation of a new government to pull the country out of its deepening political malaise.
“The bloc renewed its demand for President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to form a new Cabinet that can steer the country away from the current quagmire of crises and open to the Lebanese horizons of stability, growth and work for the future away from clashes caused by the crises surrounding Lebanon,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Meanwhile, lawmakers elected Tuesday a committee and secretariat members of Parliament, in the legislature’s first meeting attended by March 8 and March 14 MPs since May 31.
However, a Parliament session, scheduled for Wednesday, is unlikely to be held for lack of quorum in a repeat of a boycott by a sufficient number of lawmakers over the constitutionality of sessions under a caretaker Cabinet.
The Future bloc upheld its boycott of the legislative session called for by Speaker Nabih Berri.
“We will not attend the legislative session Wednesday because it is unconstitutional,” Siniora, head of the Future bloc, told reporters after meeting Berri in Parliament.
Berri has failed to convene Parliament for a legislative session since July due to lack of quorum. Last week, the speaker, and for a fifth time, set a two-day legislative session starting Wednesday to discuss an agenda of 45 items.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the Future bloc and its March 14 allies, and independent Christian MPs have refused to attend Parliament sessions to discuss a host of draft laws under a resigned Cabinet. They argue that Parliament can only convene to discuss urgent matters under a caretaker Cabinet.Berri met Tuesday with a delegation from MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, which has also boycotted the legislative sessions of Parliament, in a bid to persuade them into attending.
Asked if the bloc’s members would attend Wednesday’s session, MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s bloc, said: “[Former] Prime Minister Siniora’s statement has thwarted the session, even though Speaker Berri’s call for the session still existed.”