Lebanon News

Presidential crisis imperils parliamentary elections

File - Parliament's building in Beirut, Monday, June 9, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s political crisis could lead to another extension of Parliament’s term, political sources said Sunday, as no positive signs emerged to end the presidential deadlock soon.

“Despite the statements in public to the contrary, most major players now realize that it’s virtually impossible for elections to be held this year,” a senior political source told The Daily Star.

“We are looking for another several-month extension of Parliament’s term, at least,” the source continued, requesting to remain anonymous.

Parliament extended its term for 17 months in May 2013 over the lack of an agreement on a new electoral law and due to deteriorating security.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri dropped the idea of holding separate deliberations with MPs in a bid to break the presidential deadlock, considering the country to be in a “wait-and-see mode,” his visitors quoted him as saying.

“We, the Lebanese, cannot solve our problems by ourselves. I dropped the idea of holding deliberations over the presidential deadlock with heads of parliamentary blocs after discovering that the situation was in a ‘wait-and-see’ mode,” Berri said, in reference to the effect of regional developments in Lebanon.

The speaker has stressed several times that Saudi-Iranian rapprochement would help solve Lebanon’s presidential woes. Iran and Saudi Arabia back the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions respectively.

Commenting on Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai’s call for daily Parliament sessions to elect a president, Berri said that he would schedule a session for the next day once an agreement was reached on a presidential candidate.

“Setting the date of a Parliament session to elect a president has to do with the legislature’s bylaws. But if new developments emerge and there are signs of an agreement on attending a session and electing a president, then I will schedule a session for the next day,” Berri said.

Parliament has failed to elect a new president eight consecutive times due to the lack of quorum. Most March 8 MPs have boycotted all the sessions, arguing that they would only show up when consensus is reached on a presidential candidate ahead of time. Berri has set July 23 as a date for the ninth session.“The scheduled date could be pushed back the moment consensus is reached,” he said. “But there are no new developments to make one optimistic that a new president will be elected, even if I schedule a session every day.”

Earlier, Rai called on Berri to hold Parliament sessions on a daily basis to elect a president.

“They [sessions] have become obligatory and exclusive [to electing a president] in line with the Constitution. Through daily deliberations and rounds of elections, an agreement is reached on the president that best suits Lebanon today,” Rai said in Sunday’s sermon in Diman.

Rai accused Lebanese politicians of ignoring the harsh consequences of the presidential void.

“Don’t the officials know that because of the presidential void, the country’s economic and security conditions are further deteriorating?” he asked.

“It is a shame that our presidential seat will be empty when Lebanon attends the Arab League or the United Nations meetings,” he said.

Former MP Mikhael Daher, a legal expert, said extending Parliament’s term was unconstitutional, just like the one in May 2013.

“This will be a violation of the Constitution, the law and the system,” Daher said. “People have chosen those MPs as their representatives for four years only. These representatives cannot extend their terms by themselves without referring to people again.”

Daher dismissed security concerns that could be used as a pretext to justify extension. “The security situation was a valid excuse during the Civil War which began in 1975. Back then, Beirut was divided into east and west, there were clashes and front lines. Whereas now, the state stretches its authority all across Lebanon.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 07, 2014, on page 1.




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