BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday said he was ready to call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president just as soon as quorum was met.
The speaker’s remarks came during a legislative session to discuss a letter President Michel Sleiman sent to the legislative branch, in which he urged lawmakers to avoid a vacuum in the country’s top Christian post by electing a new president on time.
"An election session can take place at any moment and I or the deputy speaker or the eldest MP can preside over it as soon as the required quorum is fulfilled, even if we have to hold the election session at midnight," Berri told lawmakers.
"Parliament sessions, starting tomorrow, will remain open until then end of the president's term,” Berri said, referring to the May 25 deadline.
"I sensed that everyone is keen on electing a president which is the purpose of [Sleiman's letter]," he added.
Berri, who chaired Wednesday’s session, said the Constitution gave Sleiman the right to send the plea to Parliament, which should convene to discuss its content.
Although Hezbollah lawmakers boycotted Wednesday’s session, MPs from Aoun’s bloc attended, with some criticizing Sleiman because they believed the letter targeted them.
Youth and Sports Minister Abdel-Mutaleb al-Hinawi, who is close with Sleiman, left the session in protest against Zahle MP Nicholas Fattoush’s remarks in which he criticized the president’s move saying the letter, “was not an appropriate means to deal with Parliament.”
Hours after the session ended, Sleiman saluted Parliament and the speaker for carrying out their Constitutional role by discussing the letter he had sent, stressing on the importance of lawmakers attending the election sessions.
In a statement, Sleiman’s office released the content of the letter.
“The start of the election process on April 23 is in itself a commitment according to the Constitution, but refraining from participating in parliamentary sessions called for by the speaker has struck fears in the hearts of the people and increased their worries regarding the future,” the letter said.
Addressing MPs, Sleiman wrote: “The situation in Lebanon at this historic phase requires us all, particularly you, to adopt an exceptional level of unity and synergy, and imposes on every official the need to think of the national interest rather than personal interest.”
“Electing a new president is a high national issue, and vacancy in that post, even though the Constitution regulates it, will affect the National Covenant which Lebanese agreed to and the distribution of power in the state, making the election a matter of the National Covenant,” he added.
He also slammed some lawmakers’ decision to boycott election sessions, saying such a move reflected negatively on Parliament’s role and was seen as an “intended act to force a vacancy in the first seat and harm national interest and partnership.”
“We ask of your dignified Parliament to work according to what the Constitution imposes, to continue the presidential election process to avoid the risks. The nation deserves we be objective and responsible, the Lebanese deserve to have a president before May 25 and the people will hold you accountable,” he concluded.
Hezbollah and Aoun’s lawmakers have boycotted the last four rounds of voting, arguing that the sessions were futile until rival groups come to an agreement on a consensus candidate.
Berri has called for Parliament to meet once again Thursday to vote for a new president, after lawmakers botched four attempts in less than a month due to a lack of quorum to elect Sleiman's successor.
In the absence of an agreement between the Future Movement-led March 14 and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalitions over a consensus candidate to break the impasse, Thursday’s session is likely to fail.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan denied he had said that lawmakers in the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc would boycott Thursday’s session.
Speaking to El-Nashra news website, Hajj Hasan said he did not make any remarks about Hezbollah's stance with regards to the scheduled session.
This article was amended on Wednesday, May 21 2014
The original story misquoted Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan as saying that Hezbollah lawmakers would boyoctt Thursday’s Parliamentary session.
In fact, Hajj Hasan did not make such remarks.