Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Prime Minister Tammam Salam warned against a “presidential vacuum” in Lebanon after lawmakers on Wednesday failed for the third time to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman, whose term in office ends on May 25.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat following Wednesday’s vote, Salam called on Lebanon’s rival political factions to work together to choose a consensus candidate who was “made in Lebanon,” a reference to preventing regional and international interference in the election. He stressed that “the situation in Lebanon today does not permit the election of a president affiliated to any specific party or group.”
Lebanese lawmakers on Wednesday failed to secure a quorum for a parliamentary session to choose the next president after MPs affiliated to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance boycotted the vote. This is the second time that the March 8 alliance, which has yet to nominate a presidential candidate, has boycotted the presidential vote. Michel Aoun, March 8’s presumptive candidate, has said that he will only stand as a “consensus” candidate.
Salam said: “The lack of consensus between the political factions in the country on choosing a new president will reflect badly on the overall situation and will push the country towards deterioration, destroying public hopes in the recovering political, economic and security situation despite the achievements made by the government.”
“Everybody must realize the importance of this step [electing a president] and the danger that not taking it represents for the situation in Lebanon. Everybody must make concessions for the sake of the homeland, rather than seeking to serve the interest of a specific party or group,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Asked about his definition of a “consensus” president, Salam said: “This does not necessarily mean a weak president; rather, he would be a president who remains equidistant from all parties, one who undertakes the role of president as it is supposed to be: a national reference for all Lebanese, not for one faction at the expense of all others. The next president must be a president for all Lebanon and the Lebanese people, not president of any single region or party.”
Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri scheduled another parliamentary session to choose Lebanon’s next president for May 15. Local media reported that if this session also fails to select Suleiman’s successor, Berri could choose to hold a session every other day to ensure a replacement is picked before the current president’s term ends.
Warning against the threat of this “vacuum,” Salam told Asharq Al-Awsat: “A presidential vacancy would have negative repercussions on the general situation in Lebanon at this stage . . . The situation would not be comfortable or positive in any way and would place Lebanon in an unenviable position once again.” Salam added that next year’s parliamentary elections would be affected if no president is selected, particularly with the country’s election law needing significant amendments before a poll could be held.
Speaking about reports that Lebanon’s political factions have reached a tacit agreement to allow Suleiman’s term in office to expire without choosing a successor, Salam stressed that the brinkmanship being witnessed during this period would end by the time the current president leaves office.