BEIRUT: Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai urged lawmakers Saturday to swiftly form a new government and assuage Lebanon’s dire economic conditions, as he opposed the extension of Parliament's terms.
He also reiterated his call for Syrians to engage in national dialogue and end the two-year crisis.
In his message on the occasion of Easter for churches following the Western rite, Rai said: “Citizens will not accept that politicians forestall agreements to form a new government and name the prime minister-designate. The new government should be formed as soon as possible to save the country from the evil of division and the deteriorating economic situation.”
President Michel Sleiman has set April 5 and 6 as the dates to poll parliamentary blocs and independent lawmakers on their choice for a new prime minister-designate, who would in turn form a Cabinet. With no clear picture of the new government’s configuration, media outlets have predicated a delay in the formation process.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced his resignation March 22 citing disputes within his Cabinet.
Adding to Lebanon’s political crises, lawmakers have not yet agreed on a new electoral law for the June 9 elections, which Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said would be postponed for at least three months.
Talk of extending the Parliament’s term has surfaced in recent weeks given the lack of consensus on a proposal to replace the amended version of the 1960 law used in the 2009 parliamentary polls.
“The citizens will not accept that their representatives in Parliament violate the Constitution and constitutional deadlines by extending their terms. They seek to extend their term while they have not yet agreed on a new electoral law that would guarantee national unity, and give citizens their guaranteed right to elect representatives and holding them accountable,” Rai, head of Lebanon’s Maronite church, said.
“[The lawmakers] are taking their disagreement as an excuse to keep the 1960 law that everyone has publicly rejected, and they work secretly to hold elections based on that law,” he added.
Although Rai has voiced support for extending the Parliament's term for three months to give lawmakers time to draft a new law, some MPs are discussing extending their mandate for two years.
Rai, who has chaired meetings with Christian figures to discuss electoral proposals, called for the formation of a “responsible government, an active Parliament” and preventing a leadership vacuum in security institutions.
Mikati attributed the collapse of his Cabinet to the inability of ministers to agree on extending the term of a top security official Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi.
“We call on the president who has sworn to protect the constitution and the state to work in that direction, and ask everyone to cooperate with him in this fateful and critical time,” he said.
The cardinal also said that the National Dialogue committee should always be in session to resolve national issues, saying “Lebanon can only rise via dialogue.”
Referring to the conflict in Syria, Rai reiterated his call for rival sides to negotiate, and asked Lebanese authorities to prevent their country from becoming a launching pad for attacks against its northern neighbor.
“We call for those in conflict in Syria who are destroying people's homes and institutions, killing innocent people and displacing others. We appeal to them to drop their arms and money given to them from foreign parties who seek to destroy Syria and others; we ask them to fear God and sit and negotiate on a dialogue table,” he said.
“We ask neighboring countries of Syria to receive refugees from Syria and ask the authorities [in Lebanon] to prevent arms smuggling and using Lebanon as a passage to Syria or use it as launching pad for attacks” he said.