BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai has launched an effort focused on extending President Michel Sleiman’s mandate to avoid a power vacuum in Lebanon.
Political sources told The Daily Star Tuesday that Rai made the suggestion during an April 24 meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri just before heading to Rome.
Rai suggested extending Sleiman’s term by one year if lawmakers failed to elect a new president by May 25, when Sleiman's term expires, the sources added. The extension requires a constitutional amendment.
Berri, according to the sources, told Rai that any amendment should be followed by the annulment of the article that prevents top government employees from running for the presidency.
Rai did not agree, saying such an action would be rejected, to prevent Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi from running in the election.
The patriarch suggested adding a paragraph that would read: "The President will continue to exercise his responsibilities until a successor has been elected on the basis that a major constitutional seat must not remain vacant.”
But Berri did not promise Rai anything, the sources said.
Diplomatic sources in Rome said Rai was seeking to market Sleiman’s extension while visiting the Italian capital.
They said Rai, who has raised the issue with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, is pushing the extension based on a study prepared by Sleiman’s legal team.
Sleiman has stressed the need to hold the election on time to avoid a power vacuum.
But he gave a speech in Byblos Sunday in tune with Rai, rejecting a presidential vacuum or that the current government under Prime Minister Tammam Salam run Lebanon.
Free Patriotic Movement sources said they had no knowledge of Rai’s offer, adding that the party led by Gen. Michel Aoun ultimately rejected such a move.