BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai Monday lamented Parliament’s repeated failure to elect a president, warning that the 10-month-long vacuum in the country’s top Christian post paralyzed state institutions and put Lebanon in jeopardy. He implicitly blamed MP Michel Aoun’s bloc and its March 8 allies for blocking the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.
“We regret that Parliament, due to what a political group has been doing, has abandoned its constitutional duty to elect a president,” Rai said during a luncheon he hosted in honor of French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli and embassy staff at the Maronite patriarch’s seat in Bkirki, north of Beirut.
“This vacuum exposes the country to all kinds of dangers and paralyzes the work of state institutions as everyone knows.”
Before the lunch, Rai led the annual Mass in honor of France on the occasion of Easter.
Parliament failed last week in the 21st abortive attempt since last April to elect a president over a lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session to April 22.
Lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies have been blamed for thwarting a quorum with their consistent boycott of Parliament sessions, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals over a consensus candidate for the presidency.
Thanking France for its efforts to help break the presidential deadlock, Rai said he hoped that Paris would continue its endeavor so that “Parliament would do its [presidential] job without falling into the greed of the internal political game and without any intervention by foreign powers beyond a friendly diplomatic mediation.”
He added that France’s assistance was essential to help Lebanon cope with “the problem of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and its tragic consequences on security, the economy and the needy Lebanese.”
Rai said that amid the sectarian and geopolitical conflicts and “barbarian terrorism” sweeping across the region, hitting Lebanon and the Lebanese with more of its repercussions, “the Lebanese people have confirmed more than at any time before their strong determination to preserve coexistence between Christians and Muslims [based] on equality and respect in a civil society that separates between religion and the state.”
During the Mass in honor of France, Rai said: “We are praying for Lebanon’s stability and the election of a new president.
“We are praying for the war in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to be extinguished and for a political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would ensure a just, comprehensive and permanent peace.
“We are praying for the return of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to their homes and lands in dignity with respect of their right to citizenship,” he added.
For his part, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said the election of a president held the key to the solution of the country’s deepening political crisis.
“The beginning of the solution to our political crisis is by the election of a president. This matter is not the demand of Christians, but the demand of all Lebanese because experience has confirmed that this position is essential in our public life and gains importance in this extraordinary moment when we see the displacement of Christians from Syria, Iraq and all surrounding areas,” Khalil told a memorial ceremony held by the Amal Movement in the southern village of Suwaneh.
“Today, a Christian president at the head of political institutions gains special and extraordinary significance with which Christian leaders in the first place must deal with a high level of consciousness and with which all the Lebanese must deal on this basis,” he added.
A senior Hezbollah official called for the election of a president who would not be influenced by foreign powers.
“We insist on the election of a president from this people and for this people who will not be affected by foreign influences and directions,” Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek, head of Hezbollah’s religious committee, said at a student graduation ceremony in the Bekaa town of Ali Nahri.
Hezbollah has refused to budge on its support for Aoun for the presidency. The March 14 coalition is backing Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea for the top Christian post.