Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese politicians are preparing for a parliamentary session on Tuesday to consider demands by public-sector workers for better pay and conditions, despite continued wrangling among Lebanese parties over the failure to elect a new president.
Despite reports in local press to the contrary on Sunday, a parliamentary session to elect a new head of state on Monday was unable to muster a quorum due to a boycott by one of the country’s main political blocs, the March 8 Alliance.
March 8, which includes Hezbollah, opposes the candidacy of Samir Geagea, a controversial former warlord, for the position.
Monday’s session marked the sixth attempt to elect a new president, and the fifth that has failed to reach a quorum of two-thirds of the 128 members of parliament, leading to fears that parliament will be unable to meet to discuss public sector pay demands, which have led civil servants and teachers to threaten industrial action.
The Lebanese presidency has been vacant since May 25, when the term of Michel Suleiman ended. Under Lebanon’s complex, confessional-based political system, the post of head of state is traditionally reserved for a member of the Maronite Christian community.
Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces Party, is a member of the other major political bloc, the March 14 Alliance. The bloc’s Christian parties announced on Sunday they would boycott all forthcoming parliamentary sessions, claiming that parliament cannot legislate in the absence of a president.
The biggest party in the March 14, the Future Movement, backed their colleagues’ position.
However, followers of Geagea’s March 8 rival, Michael Aoun, say they are ready to proceed with a parliamentary session to address public sector pay demands on Tuesday.
Ibrahim Kanaan, and MP for Aoun’s bloc, said on Sunday that he was consulting with other legislators in an attempt to “reach a common ground to allow the General Secretariat of the parliament to ratify the decision on [state] employees’ salaries and working conditions.”
Meanwhile, senior sources from the March 14 Alliance told Asharq Al-Awsat that the continuing wrangling over the presidency was caused by underlying divisions over the distribution of power between the country’s patchwork of religious communities.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one source said: “The tug of war between March 14 and March 8 is a struggle between the Taif Accord group, which decided on an equal share of power between Muslims and Christians in Lebanon, and the third-share group,” which desires to split power three ways between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians.
The Taif Accord, signed in the Saudi city of the same name in 1989, ended the Lebanese Civil War and established the contours of Lebanon’s postwar political system.
According to the sources, Samir Geagea backs the Taif Accord, while Aoun is the “third-share candidate.”
“The difference with the other side is not personal; it is a difference over a plan, which requires sovereign forces to stay with their candidates to the end, despite the ongoing difficult political circumstances,” one source said.
Geagea is expected to discuss his candidacy in a TV interview on Monday, as well as his position on the open dialogue between Aoun and the leader of the Future Movement, ex-PM Saad Al-Hariri.
A senior official from Geagea’s party, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “contacts between the two parties do not cause concern for the Lebanese Forces.”
He added that “Hariri met Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and we never lost confidence in him, so what if he meets Aoun?”
Meanwhile, Progressive Socialist Party chief and the leader of Lebanon’s Druze, Walid Jumblatt, has announced he will not withdraw his nomination of Henri Helou for the presidency–even if Saad Al-Hariri and Michel Aoun reach an agreement—in an open indication of his opposition to Aoun becoming president.
The religious leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Christians, Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi, warned on Sunday that “failure to elect a new president of the republic is a dangerous violation of the constitution which will paralyze the constitutional institutions.”
In his Sunday sermon, Rahi said: “The election of a government which replaces the president for an indefinite period is a dangerous violation of the charter and agreement, because the Christian–Maronite constituent will be excluded from the presidency; leaving the parliament unable to carry out its legislative role and the government unable to exercise its powers.”