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No quorum, No vote ... No president

Speaker Nabih Berri reads in Parliament a letter from President Michel Sleiman urging MPs to elect a new president, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (The Daily Star/ Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Lack of a breakthrough in Lebanon’s presidential election was a foregone conclusion ahead of a parliamentary vote scheduled for Thursday with a majority of March 8 lawmakers pledging to boycott the session again.

The lack of quorum will bring Lebanon ever closer to presidential vacuum as President Michel Sleiman’s term ends Sunday.

But despite the continued deadlock, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun, whose bloc will shun the parliamentary session, offered conciliatory remarks toward his rivals across the political aisle, saying Wednesday that he along with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah formed Lebanon’s power “trinity.”

“[Former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and I should be the main pillars of Lebanon’s trinity,” Aoun told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station.

“And this trinity can never be disconnected,” he added.

Aoun has recently mended his ties with the Future Movement, dispatching his son-in-law, Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil, to hold talks with Hariri over the presidential polls.

Aoun is reportedly waiting for Hariri’s green light to announce his candidacy for the country’s top post but positive signs have yet to emerge.

Amid the persistent deadlock, however, Speaker Nabih Berri said he was ready to call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president 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.

“Starting tomorrow, Parliament sessions will remain open until the end of the president’s term,” he added.

Sleiman’s letter said Parliament’s failure to choose a candidate had “created fear among the people and increased concern for the future,” adding that the sensitive period Lebanon was going through necessitated greater unity.

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 to Sleiman, left the session after Zahle MP Nicholas Fattoush criticized the president’s move, saying the letter “was not an appropriate means to deal with Parliament.”

Hezbollah and Aoun’s MPs 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.

Future Movement MPs criticized their rivals for boycotting the session, accusing them of shirking their constitutional responsibilities and calling for the election to occur on time.

The MPs also said the quorum, originally instituted to protect the interests of Christian communities and ensure that decisions are reached by consensus, has been abused. MP Samir Jisr asked for clarification regarding quorum requirements during the presidential vote. Berri said the rules he applied were based on the practices of previous parliaments going back to 1926. Berri argued that a two-thirds quorum is required during all rounds to elect the president. Neither March 8 nor March 14 groups can secure the two-thirds quorum alone.

After the session, Berri met with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia. Salam also met with U.S. Ambassador David Hale.

Christian leaders continued to try and break the impasse, with Lebanese Forces leader and presidential hopeful Samir Geagea saying he discussed with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai a means to avoid a presidential vacuum, saying a solution must be found to avert vacancy.

“We are thinking of a means to prevent vacuum, regardless of the price,” Geagea said after his meeting in Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate.

Geagea recently returned from Paris, where he held talks with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri about the presidential impasse.

Geagea commented on the boycott of Aoun’s camp, describing it as nondemocratic. “I wish MP Michel Aoun would attend the Parliament session tomorrow and if he receives two-thirds majority, then I will be the first to congratulate him,” he said. “The patriarch and I are deeply saddened that quorum will be lost once again in tomorrow’s session and we won’t be able to elect a new president.”

In an interview, Rai appealed once more to MPs to elect a president and avert a vacuum in the presidency. The inability to do so would result in “shame on us of all and [would be] an abject failure of Parliament,” he said.

Meanwhile, a gathering of Maronite organizations that met with Rai warned lawmakers against disrupting the vote.

“The attendees warn parliamentarians, regardless of their sect, against disrupting the presidential election from being held on time, which violates the Constitution and the National Covenant and risks the survival of the entity,” the gathering said in a statement.

“They also warn MPs against failing to elect a president within the constitutional deadline, which deals a blow to the head of the authorities’ pyramid and would lead to a paralysis of constitutional institutions,” it added.

Some Maronite MPs have threatened to boycott future assembly sessions if a president is not elected on time.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 22, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Lack of a breakthrough in Lebanon's presidential election was a foregone conclusion ahead of a parliamentary vote scheduled for Thursday with a majority of March 8 lawmakers pledging to boycott the session again.

The lack of quorum will bring Lebanon ever closer to presidential vacuum as President Michel Sleiman's term ends Sunday.

But despite the continued deadlock, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun, whose bloc will shun the parliamentary session, offered conciliatory remarks toward his rivals across the political aisle, saying Wednesday that he along with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah formed Lebanon's power "trinity".

Amid the persistent deadlock, however, Speaker Nabih Berri said he was ready to call for a parliamentary session to elect a new president as soon as quorum was met.

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.

Berri argued that a two-thirds quorum is required during all rounds to elect the president.

Some Maronite MPs have threatened to boycott future assembly sessions if a president is not elected on time.


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