BEIRUT: A three-member committee from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc met Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Monday to reinforce its calls on rival political leaders to discuss the upcoming presidential election.
The committee – comprising MPs Yassin Jaber, Michel Mussa and Ali Osseiran – also met with Zghorta MP Sleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Movement, at his residence in Bneshaai, Zghorta, north Lebanon, for the same purpose.
It later met with former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who called for the presidential election to happen on time.
“The priority is to hold the presidential election on time because adherence to the constitutional deadline reflects our commitment to democracy and the rotation of power,” Mikati said, according to a statement released by his office.
The committee’s meeting with Rai came days after the patriarch urged Berri to convene a Parliament session as soon as possible in order to elect a new head of state, rather than consult officials over the matter.
The influential Maronite Church, to which the Christian president belongs, usually has a major say in the presidential election.
The committee’s consultations with leaders on both sides of the political divide come after Lebanon last week entered the two-month constitutional period in which Parliament must meet to elect a new president.
Under the Constitution, Berri must convene Parliament to elect a new president within these two months, before the expiry of President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term in office on May 25.
Jaber said the committee had felt “a positive atmosphere” during its talks with various political leaders who said they were ready to attend a parliamentary session to elect a new president.
“Of course, everyone is expressing full readiness to attend a session. Everyone is demanding some time for good preparations and to ensure the success of the session,” Jaber told reporters after the committee’s meeting with Frangieh.
Frangieh said that Rai, along with the four top Maronite leaders – Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun; Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea; former President Amin Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party; and Frangieh – were demanding the election of a strong president.
“How to reach this strong president, this is being studied,” Frangieh said, adding that the constitutional deadline for the presidential election should not be used as a “scarecrow.”
“A strong president is our goal, as it is the goal of all the Lebanese, particularly the Christian community and namely the Maronite sect,” Frangieh said.
Berri formed the committee to sound out the opinions of various political parties on their possible candidates to the presidency.
The committee has also met with Aoun, Geagea, Gemayel, Metn MP Michel Murr, and Aley MP Talal Arslan, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party.
Separately, Berri has met at his Ain al-Tineh residence with Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, to discuss the presidential election.
The speaker’s ongoing consultations with the heads of parliamentary blocs are aimed at securing a quorum for a parliamentary session to elect a new president.
During the 2008 presidential election, Parliament was unable to meet after deep political differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties resulted in a lack of quorum, even though Berri had called for around 20 parliamentary sessions.
Political and religious leaders across Lebanon, as well as foreign countries, have called for the election of a new president on time in order to avoid a vacuum in the country’s top post.