BEIRUT: With no solution in sight to the presidential election stalemate, Christian parties and lawmakers are considering boycotting Parliament sessions in response to a vacuum in the presidency.
Lawmakers from the March 14 coalition said they would boycott any legislative Parliament session should the country’s top Christian post become vacant on May 25, when President Michel Sleiman’s six-year tenure expires.
“Legislation should stop in the absence of a Christian president,” Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said during a Parliament session.
“To preserve the legitimacy of Parliament’s activity, lawmakers should not meet in the event of a presidential vacuum.”
Zahra said that MPs from other parties would join the LF lawmakers in their boycott of Parliament if MPs fail to elect a new president before May 25.
He spoke during a Parliament session intended to debate and approve a controversial wage hike bill for civil servants and public school teachers.
Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel voiced a similar view, saying Speaker Nabih Berri should pre-empt a possible impasse by passing a new electoral law if a new president was not elected by the May 25 deadline.
“We will not attend Parliament sessions in the event of a presidential vacuum,” Gemayel said in Parliament. “That’s why Speaker Berri should be aware of a possible impasse that could obstruct the possibility of reaching a new electoral law and act before May 25.”
“After the presidential election ... we will have to find a new electoral law for the parliamentary polls due later this year,” he added.
The remarks by Zahra and Gemayel come as the threat of a power vacuum looms large over Lebanon, as Parliament has failed four times in less than one month to elect Sleiman’s successor.
Parliament is scheduled to meet again Thursday in a fifth attempt, but there are signs that this session too is doomed to fail in the absence of a local and regional accord on a compromise candidate acceptable to the rival factions.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry witnessed a flurry of diplomatic activity focusing on the presidential polls.
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale held talks with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Hale, who handed Bassil a letter from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, did not speak to reporters after the meeting, the National News Agency reported, without giving details of Kerry’s letter.
Hale met Bassil in the afternoon after a morning meeting between the two was postponed for security reasons, the NNA said.
The U.S. envoy also met former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the latter’s office on Bliss Street to discuss the situation in Lebanon.
Bassil also met with French Ambassador Patrice Paoli.
The meetings come a day after Bassil was reported to have discussed the presidential election in Riyadh with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.
The Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri called on Lebanese lawmakers to elect “a consensual president,” saying the presidential vote was a Lebanese issue alone.
“Our role is not to interfere. The Lebanese are more aware of their affairs [than us]. We have sensed from them keenness on holding the presidential election,” Asiri said in a TV interview.
Separately, Saudi Arabia lifted the travel advisory against its citizens visiting Lebanon, in a move that could boost the struggling tourism industry. The revocation of the nearly two-year policy will go into effect at the end of the month, with other Gulf states expected to follow suit.
The decision was made earlier this month, days after Asiri returned to Lebanon, a source at the Saudi Embassy told The Daily Star.
Following a meeting Wednesday with Asiri and Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon confirmed the move, saying the security situation in Lebanon, which has significantly improved in recent weeks due to a new security plan, allowed for tourists to return.
Lebanon’s security deteriorated quickly following a series of suicide car bombings linked to the war in Syria, prompting several states – primarily in the Gulf – to warn against traveling to the country.
“The travel ban was lifted a few days after Asiri returned to Lebanon in early May and we are optimistic about the summer season in Lebanon,” the source said.
“Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are expected to do the same if they have not done it already, because there was coordination over the Saudi kingdom’s decision with these two countries.
“As for Qatar and Kuwait, we do not know.”