BEIRUT: Parliament will meet Wednesday to discuss President Michel Sleiman’s appeal to lawmakers to elect a new president amid growing fears that MPs will again fail to choose a successor in time and avert the presidential vacuum hanging over Lebanon.
Sleiman, whose six-year mandate expires on May 25, last week sent a letter to Parliament urging lawmakers to elect a new president to avoid the risks that would ensue if a successor is not elected this week.
The letter stresses the importance of holding the presidential election on schedule.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who will chair Wednesday’s session, said no-one had yet read Sleiman’s letter, but stressed that the Constitution gave him the right to send it.
“At the beginning of the session, the letter will be read to lawmakers who will then decide on it,” the speaker said.
Berri has also called Parliament to meet Thursday to vote for a president after lawmakers failed four times in less than a month for lack of quorum to choose a successor to Sleiman.
However, in the absence of an agreement between the March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc over a compromise candidate to break the impasse, Thursday’s session is destined to fail.
Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, who along with MPs from Hezbollah’s bloc and their March 8 allies have boycotted the previous four sessions, thwarting the required two-thirds quorum, said they would not attend Thursday’s session in the absence of an agreement over a consensus candidate.
Berri also sounded pessimistic about Thursday’s session.
“There has been nothing new in the presidential election issue,” he told The Daily Star.
He said he would call Parliament to meet Friday if no quorum was secured for Thursday’s session but he was unlikely to call a session for Saturday because of a farewell banquet at Baabda Palace that day. Berri added that if any major positive development concerning the presidential vote emerged, he would call for a Parliament session even an hour before the expiry of the May 25 deadline.
Noting that he had called on foreign ambassadors not to interfere in the presidential polls, Berri voiced fears of “a large foreign interference” in the election after May 25.
For his part, Prime Minister Tammam Salam downplayed fears of a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post, reassuring the Lebanese that his 3-month-old government was capable of running the country in the event a new president was not elected.
Salam, heading a ministerial delegation on his first visit to Saudi Arabia as prime minister, held talks Tuesday with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz in the port city of Jeddah.
He met Abdullah at Jeddah airport as the king was preparing to leave on a private vacation to Morocco. Salman hosted a lunch for Salam and the accompanying delegation at his residence in Jeddah.
“There is a constitutional article stating that in the event of a vacancy [in the presidency], the president’s powers will be vested with the Cabinet which is the essential guarantee of Lebanon and the Lebanese after the  Taif Accord,” Salam told a news conference in Jeddah, wrapping up a two-day visit to the kingdom.
“In case of a presidential vacuum, there is no fear that power will be in the wrong [hands], for it is at the heart of the Cabinet’s executive authority,” he added.
Salam voiced his hope that a vacuum could be avoided, and denied that Saudi Arabia was meddling in the election.
“It [the election] is an inter-Lebanese issue and we are working in order for it to be achieved in Lebanon, not outside,” Salam said. “We will benefit from Saudi Arabia’s support. We have heard clear words in Saudi Arabia that [the election] is a Lebanese affair along with wishes that a president will be elected.”During his Monday meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the latter’s residence in Jeddah, Salam said the head of the Future Movement was earnestly working to find a solution for the presidential crisis.
Nader Hariri, head of Saad Hariri’s office, met Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki to discuss the ongoing efforts to hold the vote on time.
The parliamentary Future bloc reiterated its support for Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s candidacy for the presidency.
“The Future bloc upholds its support for Dr. Samir Geagea who has won the unanimity of the March 14 coalition as its presidential candidate,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
“The bloc also calls on March 8 to announce their candidate in order to let the democratic system fulfill its role,” it said.
Rejecting a vacancy in the presidency seat, the bloc said efforts by all the parties should be geared toward electing a new president before the May 25 deadline.
However, Aoun’s bloc said it would not attend Thursday’s Parliament session in the absence of an accord over a consensus candidate.
“If circumstances remain the same by Thursday, then MPs from our bloc will not attend,” said former Minister Salim Jreissati after the bloc’s weekly meeting that was chaired by Aoun at the latter’s residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
“If circumstances changed toward an agreement which we are seeking, we will attend Thursday’s election session,” he said, adding that the bloc had given the option for its MPs to attend Wednesday’s Parliament session.
For his part, Geagea rejected the election of a consensus president, saying such a president would only manage the Lebanese crisis.
The LF chief, who had talks with Hariri in Paris on the presidential vote, called for the election of “a strong president” with a defined program.
“We are fed up with presidents who are elected to manage the crisis. We need a president who at least can begin finding solutions to our crisis,” Geagea said in an interview with Orient Radio-Paris.
“For 40 years, we have been managing the crisis. Therefore, any consensual president would be merely to manage this crisis.”