BEIRUT: A Parliament session to elect a president is predicted to fail to convene Tuesday for the 11th time due to a lack of quorum, as politicians mull over a proposal by Walid Jumblatt to extend the legislature’s term.
In the absence of any breakthrough in the presidential deadlock, March 14 MPs and only a few of their March 8 rivals are expected to show up for the session, which is unlikely to lead to the required two-thirds quorum.
The country has been plunged into presidential vacuum since May 25 and political parties have failed to agree on a candidate for the post in the months since then.
Parliamentary sources told The Daily Star that Jumblatt had quietly made a proposal away from the media to extend Parliament’s term for one year to give MPs a chance to either pass a new election law or hold parliamentary polls based on the current law.
Jumblatt’s idea, which is being discussed by a small number of politicians, suggests that MPs also agree on amending the Constitution to allow the election of a president for a two-year term only. The shorter term would make it easier to reach an agreement on a candidate.
According to the proposal, even if the new president’s term expired, he would remain in his post until a successor is elected.
The sources said that according to the proposal, parliamentary elections to be held during Parliament’s extended term would determine which Christian bloc’s head would be elected president for a full term.
But the sources said that Jumblatt’s idea was facing opposition from Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who reiterated to visitors last week that he believed he had more right than anyone else to represent Christians as president.
A former politician who is close to the March 8 coalition ruled out holding a presidential election before October. He explained that negotiations between regional powers would eventually force Aoun to withdraw from the presidential race to make room for MP Sleiman Franjieh, who also enjoys full support from Hezbollah, to run for the post.
Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Tammam Salam will chair a special Cabinet session at 9:30 a.m. to discuss public financing, particularly a draft law allowing the government to issue Eurobonds at low interest rates to finance the public debt and meet state expenditure.
Other financial issues the Cabinet will look into include Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil’s request for a draft law to allow extra-budgetary spending and a demand by the March 14 coalition to retroactively approve $11 billion of extra-budgetary expenditures by the government of Fouad Siniora between 2006 and 2009.
If an agreement is reached between ministers over all these topics – along with the thorny issue of the public sector’s salary raise – then Speaker Nabih Berri will likely call for a Parliament session, with the wage hike topping the agenda.
According to the parliamentary sources, the salary raise should be put to vote in Parliament regardless of the outcome, after which the legislature could move on to pass a law allowing the government to issue Eurobonds, something which all political factions agree is necessary.
The sources said that if legislative work kicks off, Parliament could hold further sessions to agree on how and for how long to extend its term.
Separately, Salam reiterated calls for Lebanon to elect a president, a Maronite Christian by tradition, particularly as coexistence in the region was being subject to a wave of terrorism. “I again call on all political factions to quickly elect a Christian Maronite president, the head of the state and the symbol of its unity,” Salam said during a ceremony at the Grand Serail celebrating the 94th anniversary of the announcement of Greater Lebanon.
“This way, we fortify our home and we revive our political life and revitalize our institutions so that they become up to the huge challenges we are facing inside and outside [Lebanon],” Salam said.
He also called for politicians to adhere to the National Pact and the Taif agreement. “Men will eventually vanish, and political systems are subject to alternation and transformation, but Lebanon remains one and unified in the borders announced 94 years ago,” he concluded, receiving a round of applause from officials and political leaders including former President Michel Sleiman.