BEIRUT: Lebanese presidents should remain in power until a successor is elected, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Thursday, calling to amend the Constitution in a bid to prevent future vacuums in the country’s top post.
"We have always said that it is the duty of the Parliament to convene and elect a head of state. Parliamentarians should seek to avoid vacancy in the presidential post at the end of the six year tenure, by amending the Constitution to allow the outgoing president to remain in his post until a successor is elected," Rai told reporters at the airport before heading to the Vatican to brief the Holy See on the conditions of Christians in the Middle East and the presidential deadlock.
Under the Lebanese Constitution, the president's authority falls to the Cabinet when the presidency is vacant. During the current presidential vacuum, the Cabinet has struggled to exercise either its functions or the additional ones of the presidency, requiring complete consensus among all 24 ministers to pass any decrees.
Rai said that he hopes that “after the election of the president, if he is elected, the lawmakers would first work on making presidential candidature mandatory, as it is the case for Parliament hopefuls," in a reference to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, regarded as the undeclared presidential candidate of the Hezbollah-led March 8 Coalition.
Deep political divisions over a compromise candidate have prevented Parliament from electing a successor to President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year tenure expired on May 25.
During his five-day visit to the Holy See, Rai will report to the pope on the outcome of his trip to Iraq earlier this month and the recommendations made at a meeting of Eastern churches on the plight of Christians suffering persecution by takfiri groups in the Middle East.
Rai will also attend a conference of world parliamentarians to discuss the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, seeking Vatican assistance to address the crisis.
"The Vatican is a state with moral and diplomatic powers. It is the role of the Holy See to move the minds and hearts of the international community and bring countries to cooperate in order to put an end to the acts of terrorist takfiri groups," Rai said.
Asked to comment on accusations from Iraqi church leaders that the U.S. was behind the creation of ISIS, Rai said the international idleness in the face of the threat stirred doubts about alleged complicity.
"Seeing heads and hands [of Christians and other minorities] being chopped off [by ISIS] while the international community led by the U.S. is watching idly, make us question the usefulness of the United Nations, the Security Council and the International Criminal Court," Rai said. "The international community is has an obligation to protect the people and their rights."
Rai and the patriarchs of Eastern churches raised the alarm at a meeting with envoys of the five permanent Security Council members and the U.N. secretary-general’s representative in Lebanon Wednesday during which they appealed for international action to stop the slaughter of Christians at the hands of militants from ISIS.
The Maronite patriarch led a delegation of church leaders who visited Iraq earlier this month to show solidarity with thousands of Christians who had fled the advance of the Islamist militants in Mosul.