Lebanese Parliament hits a dead end, Presidential Elections taking a toll on attending lawmakers as March 8 MPs remain absent

For the fourth time running, the Lebanese parliament stumbles, imprisoning lawmakers in Byzantine discussions and legal vicious circles. During the dark, dark Thursdays, lawmakers from the March 8 coalition boycotted the session, refusing to enter the parliament. With the quorum not met, the elections face a continuous gridlock that could instill vacuum in the Presidential seat, with outcomes less than positive on the economy and most notably on the security level.

With great frustration, Speaker of the House Nabih Berri was forced to postpone the sessions four times as stances remained unwavering, while lawmakers await the “secret signal” from international and regional countries of influence; obviously Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and … well, everyone else.

Plunging the country in political turmoil, the four sad Thursdays that Lebanon had witnessed so far pushed Speaker Berri to meet with Progressive socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt, Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Future movement head Fouad al-Siniora and numerous MPs to mull solutions for the ongoing gridlock. Such endeavors remain failed attempts to find middle ground that could unite all political factions and kick off elections.

Following the failed electoral sessions, Lebanese Forces leader and Presidential candidate Samir Geagea held a press conference from his residence in Meerab, in which he accused the opposing party; the Change and Reform Party or FPM part of the March 8 coalition including Hezbollah, of obstructing the elections and hampering all democratic processes.

“Obstructing elections for no evident reason is unconstitutional,” pressed the LF leader, “the second round of elections could be held without the required two-thirds of MPS,” he added, citing the Lebanese constitution.

Yet, Berri defied the country’s electoral laws and settled on the two-thirds option for all rounds.

March 8 on its part, chose to push for MP Michel Aoun as consensus candidate. Hezbollah; with its unwavering loyalty to the FPM head, refused to discuss any other candidate, as high ranking officials were quoted saying “either Aoun or no one.”

Describing Aoun as a consensus candidate spurred many less than favorable reactions from various fronts, who viewed the FPM head as confrontational, rather than consensual, most prominently due to his alliance with Hezbollah who has been involved in the Syrian war, causing violence spillover into Lebanon and the latter’s rebuttal of any suggestion pertaining to its retreat from the war-torn neighbor.

Aoun’s confidence in being elected as President could only be depicted as a “marketing stunt”, despite claims that he had struck a deal with former PM Saad Hariri. Such a campaign has been described as “bullying”, aiming to spread apprehension and tension as power void looms closer. Aoun had not given the local Christian scene any sign or plan and his election remains the host of unanswered controversial questions.

Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi voiced his dismay as to the failure of the sessions, and is about to exert pressure on Christian fronts in order to hold the elections in due constitutional time. On the eve of President Michel Sleiman’s end of term, the Bkerki resident received a Hezbollah delegation, an unprecedented gesture that ought to tip the scale and maybe push the elections in the right way.

The latest round of talks – those of Bkerki – focused on the Patriarch’s thorny visit to Jerusalem, in which he is scheduled to accompany the High Pontiff. In spite of its religious connotations, Hezbollah was the first to oppose the visit to the Holy Land, citing political normalization with the Lebanese “archenemy” Israel as deplorable. Such claims were quieted by the Patriarch and various Bkerki bishops who stressed the importance of such a trip on the human and spiritual level. Al-Rahi is set to meet with Lebanese Christians who were trapped in Jerusalem during the Lebanese civil war in the seventies.

The presidential elections were also tackled during the Bkerki visit with Hezbollah voicing an unfaltering stance concerning the candidature of certain political figures, noting that March 8 MPs will not attend the sessions should a consensus candidate remain absent.