Lebanon: Cardinal Raï Summons Christian Deputies to Unblock Election of President

To speed up the election of a new president of the Republic of Lebanon, three months after Michel Aoun’s term expired, Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Raï, received a mandate from Catholic and Orthodox leaders to gather the 64 Christian deputies in Bkerké.

Newsroom (08/02/2023 4:18 PM, Gaudium Press) —  Alarmed by a delay that undermines the very exercise of power in Lebanon, which is characterized constitutionally by an Islamic-Christian partnership unique in the Arab world, the Maronite primate invited all church leaders to meet to discuss the situation and the ongoing stalemate. As of yet, no date has been set for these “unusual” parliamentary sessions, but they are to be held “as soon as possible.”

“The presidential vacation is unacceptable and violates the Constitution,” complain the patriarchs and bishops in a statement issued after a meeting that lasted more than three hours. “That is why we appeal to Parliament,” the note continues, “to quickly fulfill its duties and to be able to elect a president.

“We give a mandate with full confidence to Patriarch Raï to hold the necessary meetings for this purpose and, in particular, to convene the Christian deputies for one or more meetings in Bkerké, and push them,” the statement adds, “together with their Muslim colleagues” to choose a new head of state.

They warn the appointment must come “as soon as possible.” In this regard, the signatories insist, “we are confident of the support of the religious leaders of the different Muslim denominations.

Earlier, the prelates deplored the appalling degradation at the economic and social levels in Lebanon and the dramatic impoverishment of much of the population. The Christian leaders’ appeal comes in conjunction with the announcement by the Shiite Amal-Hezbollah tandem that they will support former MP Sleiman Frangié, even without the support of the Free Patriotic Movement (CLP) and the Lebanese Forces (Fl), the two major parliamentary blocs representing Christians. For these formations, although for different reasons, this is a candidacy that must be blocked at all costs.

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It is pure madness, politically and for the whole nation, to think that a president can be elected without Christians,” Gebran Bassil, leader of the CLP, stressed in this regard. Fl leader Samir Geagea is no different, with an equally harsh comment: “Those who think they can elect a president,” he said, “without taking into account the will of the majority of Christians are wrong.

General Aoun’s chances

These statements come at a stage when the chances for General Joseph Aoun to gain access to the presidential chair seem to be increasing in parallel. Geagea, who has so far supported the candidacy of MP Michel Moawad, does not oppose Aoun, current commander-in-chief of the army if he is supported by “a majority of 86 votes (out of a total of 128 deputies).”

The quorum of 86 votes-equal to two-thirds of the House is essential for the election of the head of state to take place, although from the second round, the candidate can be elected with an absolute majority (65 votes) provided a quorum of voters is reached. A condition that has not occurred so far because the two major parliamentary blocs have prevented it with the aim of scuttling the election of a candidate they dislike.

On the other hand, the Progressive Socialist Party (SPP) says the army commander’s name is “at the top” of the list and enjoys the support of many foreign countries, above all the United States and Saudi Arabia. In a note to the French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour, leaders of the Druze-majority party recall that they “tried” the “Michel Moawad card, which was unsuccessful. Now we are working for a compromise solution.” Bkerké’s initiative most likely fits into this context.

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However, General Aoun’s name is not the only one mentioned as a compromise candidate. Other names are also pitted, including former minister Jihad Azour and lawyer Salah Honein. Bassil himself has spoken of the possibility of running and could convince his allies in the Shiite tandem to drop Sleiman Frangié’s candidacy and support him, in the face of the opposition candidate.

All eyes are now on the meetings of Christian parliamentarians in Bkerké.

  • Raju Hasmukh with files from Aisanews.it

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