Christian MPs Pressured to Attend Legislative Sessions to Avoid Presidential Vacuum

Top political and religious officials are pressing for the attendance of Christian lawmakers of parliamentary sessions to elect a new president next year as incumbent Michel Suleiman is expected to exert stronger efforts to prevent a vacuum, pan-Arab daily al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

Informed sources told al-Hayat that several politicians and the seat of the Maronite church in Bkirki are seeking to convince Christian MPs to attend the sessions that start on March 25 – the 60-day deadline that the Constitution sets for the election of a president.

According to Lebanon's power-sharing system, the president must be a Christian Maronite.

Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but there are fears that the differences between the March 8 and 14 camps would lead to a vacuum in the country's top post.

Blocs from the two camps have already boycotted parliamentary sessions called for by Speaker Nabih Berri under the excuse that the legislature meets only on urgent issues amid a resigned cabinet.

Premier-designate Tammam Salam was appointed in April but has so far been unable to put together a government over the conditions and counter conditions set by the rivals parties.

The sources told al-Hayat there are fears that the parliamentary blocs would continue to boycott the sessions if the candidate was not a person of their choice.

Under article 49 of the Constitution, the president shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two thirds majority of the 128-seat parliament.

The newspaper also said that Suleiman is expected to intensify his efforts to prevent a vacuum in the executive authority.

This could push him to announce along with Salam a government line-up and give it presidential authorities if a new head of state was not elected.

Suleiman has insisted that he would reject any extension of his mandate.

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