BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman pledged Friday to ensure a smooth transition of power and a timely handover at next year’s presidential elections for the first time in more than 40 years of Lebanon’s turbulent political history.
“I will work sincerely and seriously to ensure the appropriate circumstances and conditions for holding the presidential elections on time and exceptionally hand over the place [Baabda Palace] in a normal way for the first time in more than 40 years. This will be a big achievement,” Sleiman said at a ceremony marking the centennial foundation of the Zouk Mikhael Municipality.
During Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War and the subsequent years, a new head of state could not be elected normally either for security reasons or for lack of quorum in Parliament to convene and elect a new president.
The last two presidents, Elias Hrawi and Emile Lahoud, had their mandates extended by three years by Parliament when Syria was the main power broker in Lebanon.
Sleiman, who attended last month’s U.N. General Assembly meetings, praised the conference of the International Support Group for Lebanon held in New York and a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council, which he said “secured an international umbrella for Lebanon’s stability and independence.”
“Everyone, in addition to [Arab] kings and heads of state, voiced their keenness that constitutional deadlines [presidential elections] be held smoothly, calmly and on time,” he added.
His remarks came 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.
Elsewhere, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated Friday the Future Movement’s call for the formation of a nonpartisan government that would exclude all major political parties as a way to break the seven-month-long Cabinet deadlock.
He also rejected March 8 accusations that the Future Movement and its March 14 allies were obstructing the formation of a new Cabinet.
“I suggest the formation of a nonpartisan Cabinet. This does not mean that we bring in a group of people who have no knowledge or experience in public affairs. On the contrary, they might be people who have a long experience in politics or other fields and who can form a productive team that can work together for the benefit of the state,” Siniora said in a statement after touring development projects in the southern city of Sidon.
Siniora, the head of the parliamentary Future bloc, implicitly rejected the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance’s demand for the formation of an all-embracing government in which rival political parties are represented in proportion to their size in Parliament.
“It is not possible to bring in a group of people who sit at the Cabinet table and are a cause for bickering. This matter will be a burden on the state amid the challenges we are witnessing,” he said.
“Therefore, we believe that a homogeneous work team is capable of being productive for the benefit of the Lebanese in this period,” Siniora added.
A source close to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam ruled out a solution to the Cabinet crisis soon in light of the conflicting conditions set by the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup of the government.
The source said that Salam plans to meet with the president in the next couple of days as well as hold new contacts with rival politicians in an attempt to narrow differences over the Cabinet formation.
Asked if Salam was ready to accept the March 8 alliance’s proposal for a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup, which has gained the support of MP Walid Jumblatt but has been rejected by the Future Movement and its March 14 allies, the source told The Daily Star: “Salam is open to all [Cabinet] ideas and proposals. Once the [rival] parties agree on a specific formula, he is ready to discuss it.”
Siniora refuted March 8 accusations that the Future Movement was responsible for obstructing Parliament’s activity and impeding the Cabinet formation.
“We are against obstruction [of legislative activity and the Cabinet formation] and we should not be asked about obstruction,” Siniora said.
His remarks came a day after Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem accused the March 14 coalition of delaying the Cabinet formation until next year’s presidential elections on orders of a Gulf state pending the outcome of the war in Syria.
Referring to the boycott of Parliament sessions by Future and March 14 lawmakers in a row over the constitutionality of such sessions under a caretaker Cabinet, Siniora said his group was ready to engage in talks with Speaker Nabih Berri and other parties to agree on urgent items that should be addressed in the legislature.
“We extend our hand to Speaker Berri and all our colleagues in Parliament in order to agree on specific items that are really essential to approve,” he said.
Parliament has failed to convene several times since July for lack of quorum. The majority of groups boycotting the sessions, including the Future Movement, argue that Parliament can only meet to discuss urgent matters under a caretaker Cabinet.
For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai urged Salam not to step down and rival leaders to facilitate the Cabinet formation.
“If Salam abandons his efforts to form a Cabinet, this would be a disgrace to the lawmakers who unanimously nominated him [for prime minister],” Rai told reporters at Beirut airport upon his return from Qatar.
The patriarch appealed to political leaders to stop “destruction in Lebanon through the obstruction of the Cabinet formation.”