BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai warned Sunday a presidential vacuum would run contrary to the 1943 National Pact and eliminate the role of Christians in the country’s power-sharing system.
Rai’s stern warning comes as Parliament is scheduled to meet again in a fourth attempt in less than a month to elect a president amid growing signs that Thursday’s session is also destined to fail in the absence of a local and regional accord on a candidate acceptable to the March 8 and March 14 parties.
It also comes as Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces engaged in fiery rhetoric, blaming each other for the delay in electing a new president as Lebanon edged closer to a power vacuum in the absence of a deal over a compromise candidate.
Rai renewed his call on Parliament to elect a president on time in order to avert a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.
“The election of a president and his continued presence give legitimacy to public institutions. The president is the head of the state and a symbol of the nation’s unity,” Rai said during a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, north of Beirut.
“We are praying so that God will inspire political blocs and Parliament to hold this [presidential] election and choose the best president in these current circumstances for the good of Lebanon and its institutions,” he added.
Stressing that the election of a president was essential for the rise of the state, Rai said: “The feared vacuum in the presidency, for which some are working, is rejected outright by us and by the Lebanese people because it will pose a challenge to the National Pact and the Constitution ... A vacuum will eliminate an essential component of this country, which is the Christian component.”
Speaker Nabih Berri, who has called Parliament to meet Thursday to elect a president, also warned of dire consequences of a vacuum in the presidency after May 25, when President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term in office expires.
“The post-May 25 will not be the same as before. A power vacuum will present the [rival] factions with a bigger responsibility to hold the presidential election,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying.
Despite the gloomy prospects of the presidential vote, Berri, according to the visitors, said there was still “a chance to elect a made-in- Lebanon president” without foreign interference.
He added that Saudi Arabia and Iran, which wield great influence in Lebanon, backing opposing sides, were encouraging the Lebanese parties to agree on a president and they did not support any candidate.
Hezbollah again slammed LF leader Samir Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency, saying his nomination by the March 14 coalition for the country’s top Christian post was at the root of obstructing the presidential polls.
Hezbollah has dubbed Geagea, a harsh critic of the party’s arsenal and its military intervention in Syria, “a provocative candidate” for the presidency.
“The problem with the presidential vote lies with the March 14 coalition which had insisted on a provocative candidate. This is the direct cause for delaying the election,” Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, said during a ceremony in the southern town of Nabatieh, in a clear reference to Geagea. “The March 14 coalition has proved in the presidential election that they are a team of lost bets ... [They] thought it was the right opportunity to have a president who would carry out a coup against equations and national principles,” he added.
Qaouk urged the March 14 coalition to drop their support for “a provocative candidate” in order to facilitate holding the presidential vote before May 25.
“The presidential election is waiting for the March 14 [coalition] to be convinced that there is no chance for them to bring a provocative candidate [to the presidency],” he added. “The March 14 insistence on a provocative candidate amounts to a decision on a presidential vacuum,” Qaouk said in another speech in the southern village of Kafra. “Our position is to support a strong president who can be trusted with national principles.
Hezbollah MP Nawar Saheli also blamed the March 14 coalition for the presidential stalemate with its insistence on “a provocative candidate.”
“We hope to go to Thursday’s session to elect a consensus president, a strong president who rejects [foreign] tutelage,” Saheli told a rally in the Bekaa city of Hermel. “Those who reject consensus are responsible for obstructing [the presidential election] with their insistence on a provocative candidate which the majority of the Lebanese people does not accept.”
Qaouk’s remarks drew a quick response from LF MP Fadi Karam who accused Hezbollah of scuttling attempts to elect a new president.
“At the time when Hezbollah continues its steps to cripple the nation of the Cedars, the March 14 coalition continues its struggles, including the election of a new president who will represent this struggle,” Karam tweeted.
Geagea, who had earlier accused the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition of obstructing the presidential polls with its lawmakers’ repeated boycott of election sessions, said a presidential vacuum would be better than placing the country under Hezbollah’s control.
“We do not have a lot of options [in case of a vacuum]. We would either hold on to our stance or surrender the country to Hezbollah and its allies,” Geagea said in remarks published by the Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat. “A vacuum is easier and a better choice than losing Lebanon for good. I prefer we face some hard times over giving up the country to Hezbollah.”
Geagea, the March 14-backed presidential candidate, reiterated that he was ready to withdraw from the race for another March 14 candidate who shares his platform and ideas and is accepted by the March 8 camp.
Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have thwarted the required two-thirds quorum of the legislature’s 128 members by boycotting the three Parliament sessions in a clear tactic aimed at pressuring their March 14 rivals to reach agreement beforehand on a consensus candidate for the presidency.
Meanwhile, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel denied in remarks published Sunday that his recent initiative to hold contacts with various groups was aimed at paving the way for his candidacy for the presidency. He warned that a power vacuum would only lead to foreign intervention.
“My political tour has nothing to with my candidacy because what matters to me is to hold the election and we should all overcome our personal issues to salvage the republic,” Gemayel told Al-Mustaqbal newspaper.
“It is unfortunate how some undermine the May 25 deadline because reaching that date without a president means a vacuum ... increases divisions and leads to foreign intervention.”