BEIRUT: Outgoing President Michel Sleiman called Saturday for constitutional reforms that would expand the authority of the president as he bid farewell to the Lebanese after six years in office.
Sleiman and his wife Wafaa left the presidential palace at around 3 p.m. Beirut time, the couple were saluted by the presidential guards before he left. Sleiman is expected to receive supporters in his hometown of Amchit, north of Beirut on Sunday.
“The constitutional practices in the past six years revealed constitutional gaps that obstruct political work in the country,” Sleiman said in his farewell address. “The constitutional committee prepared a suggestion to amend the constitution that would be handed in to the next president.”
The constitutional amendments Sleiman suggested included “restoring the right for the executive power to dismantle the Parliament under the initiative of the president [and] giving the president the right to call for an exceptional Cabinet session when needed.”
Sleiman also called for reconsidering the authority of the Constitutional Council and the appointment of its members and its quorum so that it does not get obstructed again, in reference to last year’s stalemate in the council over a challenge to the extension of Parliament’s mandate.
Other reforms included giving a specific constitutional deadline to Cabinet to sign decrees and laws as is the case for the president. Sleiman also said that Parliament should place urgent draft laws rejected by the president and sent back to Parliament on the latter’s first session to be held thereafter.
The president also said that he would sign a decree that calls on Parliament to hold an extraordinary session to address a new draft law for the parliamentary elections set for November and the controversial salary scale draft law.
“I will sign today a decree to call on Parliament to hold an exceptional session as the country is facing parliamentary elections, which requires setting a new electoral law,” Sleiman said.
“The general situation might also witness urgent issues, and our political system requires Parliament to hold a session to question the Cabinet,” he added.
The president also highlighted the need to set a national defense strategy for the country, an issue that he pushed for throughout his tenure.
“I suggested to the National Dialogue Committee a proposal for the defense strategy, and on the eve of May 25, the memory we are proud of, I say it is time to build a national defense strategy because this would be an essential gateway to the emergence of the state,” he said.
May 25 marks Liberation Day, when Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in the year 2000, ending its occupation to the country.
Sleiman also hailed the efforts of the International Support Group for Lebanon, established in New York last year, to help the country cope with the Syrian refugee crisis and enhance Lebanon’s military capacities.
He said that the Lebanese state should follow up on the resolutions of the support group and expressed hope that the conference scheduled on June 17 in Italy would "promote the capacities of the Army.”
Lebanon recently received a $3 billion Saudi grant to buy equipment and arms for the military, a donation that Sleiman hailed during his speech as a “historic one.”
The farewell ceremony for Sleiman was attended by senior political officials and foreign diplomats, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, former prime ministers Fouad Siniora and Najib Mikati, ministers and lawmakers from various political groups.
There was no sign of any Hezbollah representatives at the ceremony.
Sleiman took office on May 25, 2008, and presided over the country through one of its darkest and most trying periods since the Civil War.
The outgoing president was more or less in a centrist position during his six-year tenure but has recently engaged in a faceoff with Hezbollah over his criticism of the party’s involvement in the Syrian war.
Sleiman has insisted on many occasions that he refused to extend his term, saying he wanted freedom for him and his family. His departure leaves a vacuum in Lebanon's top Christian post, as lawmakers have failed to elect a new president.