BEIRUT: As the international community Monday pressed Lebanese politicians to keep state institutions functional despite the presidential void, Christian groups stood firm on the stance that Parliament should only hold the election.
Christian groups across the divide menaced to boycott future parliamentary sessions unrelated to the vote, casting doubts over the fate of a parliamentary session on Tuesday to discuss the thorny issue of the salary scale.
Political sources told The Daily Star that the Future bloc was keen on having the salary scale passed “because this is an issue that involves a large proportion of the population. ” The Change and Reform bloc will not take part in the session unless consensus is established, the sources said.
“It’s highly likely that Tuesday’s session will not take place but [Speaker Nabih] Berri will schedule a new session to discuss the issue,” one source said.
Although the International Support Group for Lebanon and the British ambassador called in separate statements Monday for holding the presidential election without delay, they highlighted the need to keep state institutions running.
The ISGL called on Lebanon’s leaders to ensure that the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam is able in this new circumstance “to act effectively - as it has to date - to address the economic, security and humanitarian challenges facing the country, and to meet Lebanon’s international obligations.”
"Continuity of state institutions is vital," British Ambassador Tom Fletcher told Prime Minister Tammam Salam during talks at the Grand Serail.
Salam and several Future Movement ministers have repeatedly stated that the Cabinet could fill the void if Parliament failed to elect a new head of state before President Michel Sleiman’s term ends on May 25.
But head of the Kataeb Party Amine Gemayel and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun were not of the same opinion.
Gemayel told Kuwaiti daily Assiyasah in comments published Monday that the government was deficient in the absence of a president.
For their part, Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc said that in light of the presidential void legislative work goes against the National Pact and constitutional texts.
Following the weekly meeting of the parliamentary bloc, former Labor Minister Selim Jreissati argued that the priority for Parliament was to elect a new president, according to constitutional texts.
As for Tuesday’s legislative session Jreissati said his bloc was following up on contacts over the issue and awaiting some sort of consensus to be reached regarding the salary scale.
“Consequently, since there is no consensus over yet, the salary scale is not a higher interest in the meantime,” he added.
For their part, the Future Movement bloc reiterated the stance voiced over the weekend by the March 14 alliance stating that the sole responsibility of the Parliament was to elect a new president in the critical time the country is witnessing.
“The presidential void is a dangerous matter that cannot be accepted and should not persist,” said a statement issued by the bloc following their weekly meeting. “In light of the circumstances, MPs insist that the primary and sole mission of the Parliament is to elect a new president, while reconfirming the role of the Parliament in looking after the interest of the citizens.
The Future bloc also urged fellow lawmakers to stay “on high alert to exercise their national and constitutional duty to elect a new head of state before any other duty and as soon as possible.”
Over the weekend, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said presidential void meant that Lebanon has entered a “very critical phase” but that preserving civil peace and stability was necessary.
“These are difficult times, but people can't lose their temper. We must maintain civil peace and continue dialogue on the national level,” Nasrallah said.
“What is important is to exert all efforts to shorten the period of time [in vacuum] and have an elected president as soon as possible, rather than observe and wait for regional developments,” he added.
Lebanon plunged into a presidential vacuum Sunday with the end of President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term and no candidate capable of garnering the required majority to win.