BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Monday he hopes the Cabinet will resolve the row over exercising the president’s prerogatives during its session Tuesday, while stressing the need for consensus to pass crucial decisions.
In an interview with MTV, Salam also ruled out an early election of new president to succeed former President Michel Sleiman, blaming what he dubbed a “traditional” inter-Christian struggle over the presidency for the deadlock.
During last Friday’s Cabinet session, Salam said several proposals and ideas on how to fill the presidential vacuum were examined, but nothing was adopted pending further discussions.
“I hope the Cabinet will finish discussions on the [president’s] prerogatives tomorrow [Tuesday]. If we don’t finish tomorrow, we will hold further discussions,” he said.
Citing the Constitution, which gives the prime minister the right to call the Cabinet into session and prepare its agenda, Salam said this issue was resolved Friday when he agreed to send the agenda to the ministers 72 hours ahead of the scheduled session.
Concerning whether the Cabinet decisions need the approval of all the ministers or two thirds of its 24 members, he said this matter would be discussed Tuesday. He added that he supported consensus among ministers on any Cabinet decisions.
“I am open to debate and remarks and I direct the Cabinet sessions with an understanding. I am ready for anything that helps reach holding a Cabinet session in which we are satisfied and there are no differences among us,” Salam said.
Noting that the situation in Lebanon was “abnormal” requiring earnest efforts by everyone to fill the presidential void, he said: “I uphold consensus to deal with the current stage. ... Anything outside the framework of consensus will not be in the country’s interest and will put us in the position of confrontation. Anything outside consensus will not be comforting for the government or the country.”
Salam said consensus within the Cabinet had led to “positive results” in the past three months, including filling 45 vacant posts in the public administration and the implementation of a security plan to restore law and order in the northern city of Tripoli and the Bekaa region.
Lebanon slipped into a presidential vacuum last month following Parliament’s failure in five attempts to choose a successor to Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25. The power vacuum has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening government work.
Salam said the unstable political situation did not facilitate the election but blamed an inter-Maronite struggle for the presidency for the stalemate.
“There is a traditional inter-Christian struggle for the presidency. Any agreement among the Christians will solve the presidency problem,” he said. He added that rival Christian parties have not reached a compromise to resolve the presidential crisis.
Salam sounded downbeat about the presidential election.
Asked to comment on Interior Minister Nuohad Machnouk’s statement that he did not expect a president to be elected before mid-August, Salam said: “Minister Machnouk might seem to be optimistic. I hope the presidential election will take place tomorrow. But all indications do not signal that way.”
He called for the election of a “consensus” president to defuse tensions in the country and warned against choosing a “provocative” one.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, who returned last week from a trip to occupied Jerusalem, lamented the closure of Baabda Palace following Parliament’s failure to elect a president. He said the Presidential Palace was “the symbol of our dignity.”
“When we see the [palace] closed, our dignity is hurt,” Rai said during a meeting with Sleiman in Bkirki, north of Beirut.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate for the presidency, discussed the presidential impasse with Rai by phone after congratulating him on his safe return to Lebanon.
Geagea voiced his deep dissatisfaction with parliamentary blocs that have been blocking the presidential vote by boycotting the Parliament sessions and thwarting the two-thirds quorum required to begin the session.
Geagea and Rai discussed what should be done to prevent the obstruction of the election, according to a statement released by the LF chief’s office.
The two agreed on “the necessity of electing a Lebanese president as soon as possible because a vacuum in the country’s top presidential post is categorically rejected,” the statement said.
Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem said the current balance of power in Lebanon does not allow the election of a president without a consensus between the March 8 and March 14 camps.
Addressing the March 14 coalition, Qassem, in a speech at a ceremony south of Beirut, said: “We have repeatedly said that if you want the election of a president soonest you have [to accept] a consensus ... Come and let’s agree today it’s better than agreeing after 10 months or a year.”
The Kataeb Party reiterated its proposal for forming “a Maronite pressure group” aimed at normalizing political life in Lebanon through the election of a new president.
A statement issued after the weekly meeting of the party’s political bureau said the government was facing political, security and economic challenges, at the forefront of which is the election of a president.
“The best and only way to confront all these challenges is through a national meeting [of lawmakers] to elect a president as soon as possible,” the statement said. It rejected attempts to hold parliamentary elections, scheduled in November, while ignoring the presidential vote.
Separately, Speaker Nabih Berri returned Monday from a private visit to Italy and will resume his duty Tuesday, the National News Agency reported.
Meanwhile, a senior Iranian official said his country was not discussing the Lebanese presidential election with Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian denied in a TV interview reports that the two regional powers were holding any talks on the presidential election or to agree on a consensus presidential candidate.