Heated Debate Arises over Possible Extension of Suleiman's Term

The controversial debate over extending the term of President Michel Suleiman created further rift among the political arch-foes as Bkirki denied that Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi proposed the matter.

“The Patriarch merely proposed an idea to avert any vacuum” at the helm of the country's top Christian post, Bkirki spokesperson Walid Ghayad said in comments published in al-Mustaqbal newspaper on Tuesday.

He pointed out that al-Rahi rejects “the absence of Christians from power, which violates the National Pact.”

Under the Pact of 1943, the presidency is reserved for Maronite Christians. The prime minister should be a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.

Al-Liwaa newspaper quoted Suleiman's visitors as saying that the outgoing president “does not mind this proposal but he believes it's impossible.”

Suleiman is determined to leave the Baabda Palace on May 25, the visitors told the newspaper.

However, a heated debate is likely to erupt between the rival March 8 and 14 coalitions.

The March 14 alliance, European counties, the United States, Gulf monarchies and Russia voiced agreement over extending Suleiman's term if a consensual candidate was out of reach, diplomats told An Nahar newspaper.

The daily reported that the Islamic Republic of Iran, the U.S. and France kicked off a series of meetings concerning the presidential elections.

But Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam told al-Joumhouria that the party totally rejects extending the term of Suleiman and considers it a “strong stab against the constitution.”

Karam said that “there's a Christian agreement on rejecting any extension.”

For his part, Change and Reform bloc MP Hikmat Deeb told al-Liwaa newspaper that the Free Patriotic Movement dismisses the matter even “under the pretext of acting head of state.”

He described any attempt to extend the term of Suleiman as plain “heresy.”

“Our aim isn't only to fill the vacancy ... We need to renew the authority and implement rotation of power policy.”

Hizbullah deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem said in remarks to al-Akhbar newspaper that “extending the term of Suleiman is unlikely to happen.”

“It is a hope that will not be achieve.”

The ongoing disagreement between the March 8 and 14 camps is raising fears that they will fail to elect a president before May 25, resulting in vacuum in the country's top post.

One presidential elections session was held on April 23, but neither Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea nor Democratic Gathering MP Henri Helou garnered the necessary 86 votes to emerge victorious.

Two other sessions were supposed to be held, but they failed over lack of quorum after a March 8 camp boycott over the ongoing disagreement over a candidate.

The fourth session is scheduled for May 15.



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