BEIRUT: Lawmakers failed for the eighth time Wednesday to convene and elect a new president for lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session for another two weeks.
A statement read out by Berri’s spokesman Mohammad Ballout said the speaker postponed the legislative session until noon on July 23 “over lack of quorum.”
At 12:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the electoral session was scheduled to begin, there were only 64 MPs present in Parliament.
For the first time, Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam did not show up to the session.
The usual scene prevailed in and around Parliament headquarters in Downtown Beirut Wednesday, only this time the podium placed at the bottom of Parliament’s stairs had been removed.
Further complicating efforts to break the presidential deadlock, now in its second month, was Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s proposal to allow the people to elect a president, which swiftly drew fire from the March 14 coalition and threw the political atmosphere into further disarray.
The presidency, which has been vacant since former President Michel Sleiman’s term ended on May 25, is reserved for a Maronite Christian under the National Pact of 1943 that governs Lebanon’s political power-sharing balance.
Berri had said Tuesday that 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.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea blasted Aoun for further obstructing the presidential election by proposing constitutional amendments, which he said would only prolong the vacuum.
“Should we be amending the Constitution at a time the presidential seat has been vacant for over a month?” Geagea said in a televised news conference, minutes after Berri adjourned the session.
Geagea, a presidential hopeful backed by the March 14 coalition, said Aoun’s proposal was untimely and would indirectly enforce the vacuum, questioning the former general’s motives.
“Whoever is proposing constitutional amendments should recognize that Parliament’s sessions are exceptional and the aim of such suggestions is merely meant to divert attention away from the presidential vacuum,” he said.
“[Former Prime Minister Saad] Hariri informed me during our talks in Paris that Aoun would bring up the issue of amending the Taif Accord as soon as he realized that his chances [of becoming president] were slim,” he said.
“Every time the Taif does not suit him, he proposes amendments,” Geagea added.
Aoun, the head of the second largest bloc in Parliament, has been March 8’s undeclared candidate for the presidency.
Change and Reform MP Alain Aoun said the bloc was “shocked” at the negative reaction to Aoun’s proposal, which he said was aimed at “bringing the country out of the impasse,” especially for Christians.
He said the Christians received no guarantees from the Taif Accord.
“Where are the guarantees that were given to the Christians? And where is the political system that secures these guarantees? We remember the reality for Christian leaders, some of them are in exile and some are imprisoned, is this the guarantee they were promised by adopting the Taif Accord as it should be?” he asked.
Aoun stressed at a news conference following the failed session that the current choice was either to properly adopt the Taif Accord or amend it. He said the impasse was the product of the current political system and that his recommendation was meant to provide solutions. He said Parliament would not achieve a two-thirds quorum if imbalances between the sects remained as they are.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab also defended Aoun’s proposal, saying that “if anyone had an alternative proposal, we are ready to discuss it and listen.”
Bou Saab said that since the Taif Accord had not been strictly enforced, a fair electoral law that ensured proportional representation should be given a chance.
“We knew that when Gen. Aoun announced his proposal, there would be some who would agree and others who would object, and some who will criticize, and the Future Movement said the proposal’s time was not now,” he said.
“We will communicate with all parties to maintain dialogue because there is no solution except through dialogue,” he added.
Bou Saab also said the recent dispute over the controversial salary scale was not linked to numbers, but was political, expressing hope that the matter would be resolved next week. Speaking at the inauguration of the Mazraat Yeshou Public School in the Metn, Bou Saab said he stuck to his promise that official exams would take place.
“They happened in cooperation with the Union Coordination Committee and with the teachers, but today I cannot promise that grading will take place unless the salary scale is adopted,” he said.
“This salary scale is fair and those who have been asking for it are in the right, but the dispute regarding the salary scale was never about numbers, but about politics and it still is about politics. We hope that this dispute is solved next week and the teachers get their rights and the students get their results so they can begin university,” he said.
Teachers are boycotting the grading of official exams to pressure the legislature into endorsing the salary raise and announced a two-day strike earlier this week to urge Parliament to approve the memo previously submitted by the commission to MPs, to ensure that salaries are adjusted by 121 percent.
Concerning the Lebanese University, which has been postponing exams to protest the government’s delay in meeting the demands of the institution and its professors, Bou Saab also voiced hope that the issue would be resolved next week.
Contract professors will hold a protest Thursday in Downtown Beirut as the Cabinet convenes to discuss 35 items on the agenda, in line with a new mechanism devised by ministers to regulate the work and prerogatives of the government under the presidential void.