BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai warned Sunday that Cabinet indefinitely replacing the president would amount to “a grave violation” of the National Pact on equal power-sharing between Muslims and Christians.
“With regard to our national life in Lebanon, the truth is the Constitution and [partnership between Muslims and Christians] is the National Pact,” Rai said in his Sunday sermon in Bkirki, stepping up his criticism of MPs for failing to pick a successor to former President Michel Sleiman. “The failure to elect a new president is a grave violation of the Constitution that causes paralysis in constitutional institutions.”
Referring to the Cabinet, which under the Constitution assumes executive powers, including those of the outgoing president, until a new president is elected, Rai said: “Should the Cabinet replace the president for an indefinite period, this will amount to a grave violation of partnership and the National Pact because it excludes the Christian Maronite component from the first presidency post.”
He added that after the country fell into a presidential vacuum, “neither can Parliament assume its legislative duty, nor can the Cabinet find the means to practice its powers.”
Dating back to 1943, the National Pact is an unwritten agreement that laid the foundation of Lebanon as a multi-confessional state and has governed the political dynamics of the country to this day. Under the pact, the presidency is allotted for the Maronites, the premiership for Sunnis and the speakership for Shiites.
Parliament has failed in five attempts since April to choose a successor to Sleiman after his six-year term ended on May 25 due to a lack of the required two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members to begin the session.
Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted the required quorum by boycotting the sessions, in a clear bid to pressure their March 14 rivals into agreement beforehand on a consensus candidate for the presidency.
The presidential void has paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening the government’s work.
Parliament is slated to meet Monday in yet another attempt which is also destined to fail to elect a president over lack of a quorum.
Rai urged MPs to abide by the Constitution and the National Pact and work to pull the country out of “the state of confusion, divisions and paralysis” by electing a president.
“We are praying for them [lawmakers] so they can realize their responsibility for the aggravating economic and social crisis and for humiliating the people by starving them, displacing them and neglecting them,” he said.
“They [lawmakers] should realize they are responsible for the infringement on the nation’s dignity, depriving it of a president who protects the Constitution, safeguards the nation’s unity, gives legitimacy to all other institutions and sets them into motion just like the head does with the body’s parts,” Rai added.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, meanwhile, sounded downbeat about electing a successor to Sleiman soon, saying a political compromise over the presidential vote was not ready yet. “The door for political compromise over the presidential election issue has not been opened yet,” Abu Faour said during a meeting with mayors in Rashaya.
“So far, there has been no progress over the presidency issue and there don’t seem to be any solutions looming on the horizon that could put an end to the presidential void.”
Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc blamed what he called the “exchange of impossible conditions and conflicting positions” by the rival political parties for the presidential stalemate.
“Foreign parties should not be blamed [for the presidential deadlock] because it’s an internal Lebanese crisis and the decision [to solve it] is an internal one,” he said.
Abu Faour, whose bloc has nominated Aley MP Henri Helou for the presidency, urged all parliamentary blocs to attend Monday’s Parliament session and vote for a president.
A senior Hezbollah official reiterated the party’s call for a swift election of a president. However, Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem said it was not possible to elect a president without consensus between the March 8 and 14 camps.
“We want the election of a new president as soon as possible. But let’s be clear, all indications show that no president can be elected without a consensus,” Qassem told a Hezbollah graduation ceremony for women in the Bekaa region.
Addressing March 14 parties, he said: “We say to you let us reach a consensus to hold the presidential election. If you delay the consensus, this means the presidential void will go on for long and you are to blame for that.”
He also called for the adoption of a new electoral law based on proportional representation before Parliament’s extended mandate ends on Nov. 20.
For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate for the presidency, slammed his March 8 rivals, accusing them of “treason” for disrupting the presidential election and focusing their efforts on managing the vacuum instead of ending the deadlock.
“What is happening today is a treachery. We have reached the end of the presidential term [without a successor] because some were disrupting the election,” Geagea said during a ceremony Saturday. “Since May 25, there has been talk about how to institutionalize the vacuum rather than looking into ways to elect a new president. It is as if some people are preparing for a long-time vacuum.”
“There is no regional or international pressure on Lebanon but two parliamentary blocs are not taking part in the parliamentary sessions and are disrupting the election,” Geagea said, referring to Aoun’s and Hezbollah’s blocs.