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Berri resigned to eighth failed session

  • File - MPs gather at Parliament to attend a presidential election session in Beirut, Thursday, May 22, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: A Parliament session to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman will not be held Wednesday for a lack of quorum in the eighth thwarted attempt since April 23, raising fears of a prolonged vacuum in the country’s top Christian post, political sources said Tuesday.

Further complicating efforts to break the presidential stalemate, now in its second month, was Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun’s proposal for electing a president by the people, a proposal that swiftly drew fire from the March 14 coalition and threw the political landscape into further disarray.

“We are in the eighth session and its fate will be similar to the previous ones: no result,” Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying by visitors.

“The date of parliamentary elections is approaching and the situation looks totally blocked,” Berri added, in reference to parliamentary polls scheduled for November.

The speaker said he was considering holding separate deliberations with heads of blocs and with independent MPs in order to sort out how to deal with presidential and parliamentary elections.

“We cannot stand idly by in the face of presidential election nor can we overcome it and move to parliamentary elections so that no one will say that we are neglecting the former,” the speaker continued.

Berri said he would make up his mind regarding what to do within 48 hours.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam warned that the failure to elect a president could torpedo holding parliamentary elections.

“This situation does not encourage holding parliamentary elections,” Salam said in an interview with Al-Jazeera channel. “How can the political struggle over the presidential election ensure [holding] parliamentary elections?”

Lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum by boycotting Parliament sessions in a bid to pressure their March 14 rivals to reach a deal on a consensus candidate for the presidency.

While he has not announced his candidacy, Aoun is widely viewed as the March 8 coalition’s undeclared nominee for the presidency.

The parliamentary Future bloc called on Aoun’s and March 8 lawmakers to stop thwarting Parliament sessions to elect a president.

“The March 8 parties should announce their candidate for the presidency or come forward for an agreement on a candidate who has the leadership skills and ability to unite the country, defend Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty and oversee the application of its constitution and protection of its institutions,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting. “No priority should be given over the election of a new president.”

The bloc also rejected Aoun’s proposal for electing a president by the people, saying such a radical change in Lebanon’s political system demanded a lengthy debate in a calm atmosphere.

“The Lebanese people have accumulated, throughout history, a number of compromises and agreements that contributed to the development of its political system, its Constitution, the National Pact and the Taif Accord,” the statement said. “Therefore, any attempt or proposal to amend national pacts or the political system requires a comprehensive national debate under appropriate circumstances,” it added.

The statement stressed that constitutional amendments regarding important and fundamental issues required “a calm atmosphere, free of the tensions or the exceptional circumstances we are living. Such changes take time, and the country now needs a new president as soon as possible,” it added.

The bloc’s statement came one day after Aoun proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow Lebanese voters, rather than their MPs, to directly elect the country’s president. According to Aoun’s proposal, Christians would vote in the first round of the polls and the two top candidates would then run in elections open to voters of all sects.While Aoun’s proposal drew harsh criticisms from some, the FPM leader’s allies in Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have remained tight-lipped.

However, Aoun appeared unfazed by his critics. Sources in the FPM said Aoun would not back off and would seek to promote his proposal among the Lebanese in general, and Christians in particular.

“Aoun is fully convinced that political life in Lebanon will not be back to normal unless the Christians get their right to elect their lawmakers and boost the powers of the president, the top Maronite post left for the Christians by the Taif Accord,” the sources said, adding that the March 14 negative reactions to Aoun’s proposal were not surprising.

According to the sources, all internal and external information indicates that the presidential election has been put off for a long time because of the “wrong tactic” used by the March 14 parties in endorsing Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency “even though they know that his chances for reaching the Baabda Palace are nil.”

Geagea, meanwhile, urged the boycotting March 8 lawmakers to attend Wednesday’s session and vote.

“I appeal to you to go down to Parliament tomorrow [Wednesday] to use your national conscience and elect a president according to your political conviction instead of wasting time with illusory suggestions,” Geagea said in an open letter addressed to March 8 lawmakers, referring to Aoun’s proposal for choosing a president by a popular vote.

“Boycotting sessions to elect a president, obstructing the election and pushing the country into a constitutional vacuum is not in your rights,” Geagea said. “On the contrary, it essentially contradicts the mandate you have been granted [by the people].”

Geagea said the absence of a head of state threatens the country’s existence.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 02, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

A Parliament session to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman will not be held Wednesday for a lack of quorum in the eighth thwarted attempt since April 23, raising fears of a prolonged vacuum in the country's top Christian post, political sources said Tuesday.

Further complicating efforts to break the presidential stalemate, now in its second month, was Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun's proposal for electing a president by the people, a proposal that swiftly drew fire from the March 14 coalition and threw the political landscape into further disarray.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam warned that the failure to elect a president could torpedo holding parliamentary elections.

Lawmakers from Aoun's bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum by boycotting Parliament sessions in a bid to pressure their March 14 rivals to reach a deal on a consensus candidate for the presidency.

The parliamentary Future bloc called on Aoun's and March 8 lawmakers to stop thwarting Parliament sessions to elect a president.

The bloc's statement came one day after Aoun proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow Lebanese voters, rather than their MPs, to directly elect the country's president.


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