BEIRUT: Parliament Thursday failed in its fourth attempt to hold the second round of the presidential election, with Speaker Nabih Berri adjourning the session to May 22, only three days before President Michel Sleiman is scheduled to step down.
MPs began arriving at Parliament slightly before the session, but by noon, the scheduled start time, only 71 lawmakers were inside the chamber itself, not enough to secure a quorum.
Like the previous voting session, MPs representing the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance boycotted and thwarted a quorum, insisting that a compromise be reached on a consensus candidate before another vote is held.
The first round of voting on April 23 failed to elect a successor to Sleiman, and the four attempts since then to hold a second round of voting have failed to achieve a quorum.
MP Sami Gemayel blamed Berri for the delays, saying the speaker should have called for daily sessions until Parliament elected a new president.
“Berri should have announced a ‘state of emergency’ in Parliament until a new president is elected, including Saturdays and Sundays,” Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel said after the speaker adjourned the meeting. “One week is just too long for us.”
Political sources told The Daily Star that there had been no breakthrough on the presidential election yet, awaiting the outcome of upcoming Iranian-Saudi talks.
Saudi Arabia has recently extended an invitation to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit the kingdom. Resuming contacts between Iran and Riyadh could have positive effects on resolving tensions in the region including Lebanon’s presidential stalemate.
The scene outside Parliament’s building in Nijmeh Square was a déjà vu, however, lacking the barbered wires usually set when civil servants protest in parallel to parliamentary sessions.
After this session, it is not necessary for Berri to call on lawmakers to convene for the election of a new head of state because the Constitution requires Parliament to enter an electoral session 10 days before the expiration of the current president's term. The two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members required for any electoral session can then convene at any time.
Prior to the session, Berri held separate meetings with MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from Michel Aoun's Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Berri also held talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and head of the Future bloc MP Fouad Siniora after the end of the session.
Kanaan said he reiterated the bloc’s position on boycotting the presidential votes until an agreement is reached on a consensus candidate.
“We must reach an understanding on a candidate,” Kanaan told reporters after meeting Berri, stressing that there was no point in attending when the only candidate running was considered unacceptable. "We should have several options available."
MP Akram Chehayeb, of Jumblatt’s National Struggle Front, said “we are counting on last-minute solutions,” warning against a possible vacuum in the presidential post.
MP Ahmad Fatfat said that his Future bloc “will coordinate with March 14 allies on whether to attend legislative sessions after May 25.” He said he believed March 14 would only attend sessions to pass urgent draft laws.
Christian lawmakers from the March 14 coalition said Tuesday that they were mulling a boycott of Parliament in response to a presidential vacuum in the presidency.
Presidential hopeful Samir Geagea, whose candidacy has been rejected by some March 8 groups, voiced his support for amending the Constitution to avert a possible vacuum.
“We should work on amending the Constitution to elect a new president because it is no longer acceptable for such disruptions to continue,” Geagea tweeted, referring to the boycott of March 8 MPs.
"The amendments should adjust the following: the first round of election requiring two thirds quorum, the second would require majority plus one and the third session would be convened for MPs who decided to attend," he said.
He added that such changes should be discussed after the May 25 deadline.
Geagea said it was impossible to agree on a president in light of the terms and conditions set by March 8.
MP Henry Helou from Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc urged Lebanese to agree on a consensus candidate “rather than wait for others to agree on a candidate for us.”
Helou and Geagea said they were still running for president.