BEIRUT — Parliament on Thursday decided that the current caretaker cabinet headed by Najib Mikati can proceed with its caretaker duties, according to an official statement published by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's office after a meeting during which Lebanese MPs discussed a letter sent by former president Michel Aoun on matter of the cabinet's resignation.
After the meeting ended, multiple MPs, including George Adwan (Lebanese Forces) explained that, according to the decision taken by the legislature, Mikati's caretaker cabinet can continue to manage current affairs but may not meet except in exceptional situations.
The current caretaker government has been considered resigned since shortly after the 2022 parliamentary elections, which took place in May. The content of the letter sent by Michel Aoun to the legislature is therefore considered controversial. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is also the premier-designate, said on Sunday that the procedure has "no legal basis." Aoun’s letter contains a series of criticisms of Mikati, who Aoun blames for the failure to form a new government before the end of the presidential mandate on Oct. 31. According to Aoun, Mikati was unprepared to give the Free Patriotic Movement, which Aoun founded and which is headed by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, sufficient representation in the cabinet lineup.
Replying to the letter in Parliament, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati affirmed that his government, "which is already considered resigned without the need for a decision from the president," should proceed with its caretaker work as a "constitutional duty" and that to have a vacuum "contradicts the purpose for which the constitution was created." Mikati also said his caretaker cabinet will continue its exclusive caretaker duties "or else it shall experience constitutional punishments."
'The only solution'
After the session, Adwan explained that Parliament decided that it cannot withdraw its designation from Mikati because the constitution does not allow it. Regarding the transfer of the presidency's authority to the current cabinet, Adwan explained that the constitution says the authorities can be transmitted "only to a government that meets" which is not the case. According to the constitution, the authority of the president is transferred to the government in place in case of presidential vacuum; however, as Lebanon is experiencing, for the first time in its history, a vacuum at the level of both the presidency and the government, political leaders debated whether the authority of the president would be transferred to the current government.
Following the session Adwan said that despite what Parliament decided, "the only solution is to elect a new president so that we don't indulge in such discussions" — a reference to discussions about the authority of the presidency.
During the parliamentary meeting, Berri scheduled a parliamentary session to elect a new president next Thursday, the state-run National News Agency reported. The Parliament statement also quoted Berri as saying he will convene Parliament on a weekly basis starting next Thursday to elect a president. "I hope that throughout this week that a consensus will be reached between all blocs and groups …. If compromise is not made here or there, we won't reach a solution," Berri said.
As soon as today's session started, many MPs withdrew from Parliament. A source attending the session told L'Orient Today that the MPs who withdrew are part of the Forces of Change bloc and Kataeb. Ashraf Rifi (Independent/Tripoli) and Michel Moawad (Independent/Zgharta) also withdrew from the session. Chouf's Forces of Change MPs Najat Aoun and Mark Daou announced prior to the beginning of the session that they would boycott it and called on the Parliament speaker to ask for sessions to elect a president "and nothing else."
'A violation of the constitution'
Following his party's withdrawal, Sami Gemayel told reporters present in Parliament that his party left the session because they thought it violates the constitution. Gemayel said that, before leaving the session, he told those assembled that "we should elect a president to apply the constitution and any other act is a violation of the constitution."
If we accept to organize the vacuum, we are violating the constitution," Gemayel added. "We also think the goal of this session is to create a sectarian problem between the Lebanese; they want the country to go to tensions and chaos," he contined.
Replying to allegations about the session triggering sectarian conflicts, Berri was quoted by his office as saying, "hopefully the intentions are clean, and we have discussed similar letters before and nothing happened," before adding, "Does anyone think I could ask for something sectarian?"
Shortly after their withdrawal, MPs Ibrahim Mneimneh, Paula Yacoubian, Halimé El Kaakour, Elias Jaradeh, Ramy Finge, Firas Hamdan, Michel Douaihy, Melhem Khalaf, Yassin Yassin and Waddah Sadek released a statement saying that "at midnight on Oct. 31" when Aoun's term officially ended, Parliament became "an electoral college that may convene repeatedly only elect a president, and it has no right to discuss anything else."
The stalled formation of a new cabinet coincides with Parliament's failure to date to elect a successor to Aoun due to lack of consensus between the political parties.
On Wednesday, Berri announced that he had abandoned the idea of convening the various political groups for a dialogue session on the presidential election — an initiative he had been advocating in order to find a consensus on a successor to Aoun. Berri said the reason for his decision is "the opposition [to the initiative] expressed by two groups: the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement."
Shortly before Thursday's the session started, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai told the LBCI news channel, on the sidelines of his participation in a religious forum in Bahrain, that "leaders can resolve their differences if they sit at the same table [for negotiation]."
"I have called for a special conference to be held in the country, under the auspices of the UN, to resolve the points of contention," he added, emphasizing that consensus between the parties for the election of a president must be achieved "through voting and negotiations."