Lebanon News

Sfeir: Presidential poll must precede unity government

Beirut: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir reiterated Tuesday that a two-thirds quorum is required to elect Lebanon's next president, while stressing that the poll should precede the formation of a national unity government. "Demands to have a national unity government, even if made hours before the presidential election, are considered to be acts of defiance; and we are all aware that defiant attitudes cannot build nations," Sfeir told the Kuwait-based As-Siyassa newspaper in an interview to be published Wednesday.

While the opposition considers the formation of a national unity government as a key step toward solving pending issues, including the presidential election, the ruling coalition sees the presidential election as the only doorway toward solving all pending matters.

Sfeir said the Constitution "clearly" stipulates the president should be elected by a two-thirds quorum in the first round and by absolute majority if a second round of polls is needed.

"Having MPs boycott the election session is the same as having them boycott their national duties and obligations," he said. "It is also worth noting that Lebanese as well as international political norms specify that a president ought to be elected by a considerable majority in order to be taken seriously."

Regarding constitutional amendments, Sfeir said he was against amendment scenarios, "unless this is done to spare the country potential disasters."

"Some claim army commander General Michel Suleiman is the only one capable of saving the country so why not amend the Constitution for his sake, since saving our country is a priority?" he asked.

The Lebanese Constitution specifies that Article 49 be amended if an employee of the civil service were to be elected as president. The issue was raised after the names of Suleiman and Treasurer Riad Salameh, both employees of the civil service, were heavily circulated as potential presidential candidates.

During their meeting in Maarab Monday, Christian figures from the March 14 Forces rejected scenarios for constitutional amendment.

While citing Suleiman, Sfeir strictly refused to name any favorites for the presidential polls.

"If I name a favorite for the presidential polls all groups will attack him," he told the daily.

Sfeir called on Lebanese politicians to put an end to foreign interference in Lebanese political affairs, and particularly in presidential elections.

The head of Lebanon's Maronite Church acknowledged that Syria played a role in Lebanese politics, "since a lot of the Lebanese take Syria's stands into consideration."

The patriarch, however, dismissed the idea that Saudi Arabia was seeking to play a role on the Lebanese political scene.

Echoing Sfeir's calls for MPs to attend the election session of a new president expected to be held at the Parliament on September 25, Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani called on MPs to participate in electing Lebanon's next president.

"Anyone who boycotts the election session will be held responsible for any power vacuums and all the negative repercussions such a situation might entail," Qabbani said in a statement Tuesday.

Also tackling the hot issue of the presidential poll, vice president of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan said only the formation of a national unity government was likely to forge a consensus concerning the identity of Lebanon's next president, and all other pending issues.

Qabalan said Lebanon's next president "should represent all the Lebanese or else he will be considered as weak."





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