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Any attempt to obstruct the presidential election aims to bring down the republic, Rai says

The head of the Maronite Church says Lebanon needs "neither a resigned government nor a reshuffled government"

Any attempt to obstruct the presidential election aims to bring down the republic, Rai says

Cardinal Bechara al-Rai, head of the Maronite Church. (Credit: NNA)

BEIRUT — As the end of President Michel Aoun's mandate approaches on Oct. 31, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai is multiplying his calls to find a successor.

"Any attempt to obstruct the presidential deadline is aimed at bringing down the republic," Rai said on Sunday, while MPs have still not been called to a session to elect the next head of state. A total political vacancy is feared at the executive level if a new president is not elected, as the vacancy in Baabda will be added to the current one in the Grand Serail, as Najib Mikati's cabinet has been serving in a caretaker capacity only since legislative elections in May.

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In his Sunday homily at the patriarchate's summer headquarters in Dimane, North Lebanon, Rai also blasted the inaction on the formation of a new government. "We need neither a resigned government nor a reshuffled government," he said, thus ruling out the two options of  Mikati and Aoun. However, optimism presently appears to prevail in the political world on the topic of imminent government formation, with both Mikati and Hezbollah saying they expect a cabinet to be announced in the coming week.

The republic in danger

Rai said that "any attempt to obstruct the presidential elections is aimed at bringing down the republic, on the one hand, and at minimizing the Christian role, particularly that of the Maronites, on the other."

The supreme magistracy is traditionally held by a Maronite Christian, not according to the Constitution but according to a historic agreement between the different communities in the framework of the National Pact.

"We are the fathers of this republic and the pioneers of national understanding," the patriarch proclaimed.

On Saturday, during a meeting at Dar al-Fatwa, Sunni Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian demanded that the next president "put an end to false discord and confessional quarrels over the prerogatives" of the Maronite president and the Sunni prime minister.

The head of the Maronite Church also recalled that Parliament has still not convened  to elect the president, and criticized the political dealings underway to find a consensus around candidates.

"The idea of internal consensus on a president is commendable, but the priority is the democratic mechanism and respect for deadlines …. The wait for a consensus is a double-edged sword, especially since no sign of this consensus has been seen for now," he said.

"It is abnormal to prevent the election of a president every time in order to transfer his powers to a government. Is the presidential election no longer necessary?" asked the cardinal, while several scenarios are being weighed behind the scenes on a possible ministerial reshuffle. Aoun is said to have given up his desire to expand the outgoing government from 24 to 30 ministers by incorporating six political figures, three Christians and three Muslims — an option categorically refused by Mikati.

'This is a political and national crime'

At a time when some are calling for the transfer of the president's powers to the outgoing government in case of a presidential vacancy, others are calling for a reshuffle of the current cabinet. The patriarch dismissed these options: "There must be no resignation of the government, no reshuffling of the government, no presidential vacancy: this is a political, national and existential crime," he said. This criticism is directed at both Aoun's and Mikati's options; the former wants a new, more political government, while the latter repeats over and over again that presidential powers must be transferred to the cabinet in case of a vacancy.

"The government cannot remain as it is: a government of division that is limited to the representation of a political axis extending a regional axis," the Maronite patriarch added in yet another apparent dig at Hezbollah and its allies.

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Hassan Nasrallah's party is openly pro-Iran and is often targeted in Rai's diatribes. According to the prelate, Lebanon needs a government that abandons the old divisions between March 8 and March 14, respectively pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian political camps, and that "represents the popular event that arose during the revolt of Oct. 17" 2019.

Bishop Audi for a unifying president

The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut, Elias Audi, for his part, called for "electing a president who brings everyone together around him to get Lebanon out of the nightmare."

In his homily on Sunday, Audi called for the election of a president "who works to preserve Lebanon's sovereignty, independence and stability, in accordance with the Constitution and in application of the laws, even at the expense of their interests and their ego."

Migrant vessel shipwreck

In addition, Rai referred to the tragic sinking of a boat of illegal migrants from Lebanon off the coast of Syria on Thursday.

"This tragedy is not the first. Where are the security and repressive measures of the state to prevent the departure of these boats of death?" he asked.

"The state is responsible for this tragedy by its inability to get the country out of its economic, financial and social crisis," he added.

The death toll from this tragedy so far stands 94, with many of the boats passengers still missing.


BEIRUT — As the end of President Michel Aoun's mandate approaches on Oct. 31, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai is multiplying his calls to find a successor. "Any attempt to obstruct the presidential deadline is aimed at bringing down the republic," Rai said on Sunday, while MPs have still not been called to a session to elect the next head of state. A total political vacancy is feared at the...