Forces of Change MPs Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf tweeted on Monday from inside Parliament, where they have now been holding a sit-in for more than 11 days, that at present "Parliament can only elect a president" — a reference to the legislature's limited mandate amid a presidential vacuum. Lebanon has been without a head of state since the end of Michel Aoun's term in office on Oct. 31.
"Our presence in Parliament uninterruptedly for over 11 days is in application of the Constitution," the two elected officials said in a tweet published on both their accounts.
"Talking about a legislative session to approve so-called necessary laws is a flagrant violation of the Constitution, which we will oppose: the Parliament can only elect a president," they insisted.
After an 11th unsuccessful parliamentary election session on Jan. 19, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri did not announce a new meeting date for the presidential election. However, he has convened joint parliamentary committees to examine several bills and proposals, including on a capital control law — a reform demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the international community as a prerequisite to the release of financial aid to Lebanon, which is in the grip of a serious multifaceted crisis.
For the two Forces of Change MPs holding a sit-in at Parliament, "the election session to elect a president must remain open from the beginning of the vacancy in the presidency."
These MPs contend that Berri's decision to end each presidential election session after an inconclusive first round vote and the subsequent departure of Hezbollah and FPM MPs, which causes the session to loose quorum, is unconstitutional. Instead, they say, the election session should remain open and voting rounds should continue. To date, Parliament has never progressed beyond a first round vote to elect a president, in which a candidate needs a two-thirds majority to win; however, in second and subsequent round votes, a candidate need only secure a simple majority to be accede to the Presidential Palace.
"The Parliament does not need to call for meetings; these calls have become a measure that is not necessary," the Forces of Change MPs concluded.
The Lebanese Parliament, deeply divided between the pro-Iranian Hezbollah camp and that of its opponents, is unable to choose new president.
No camp has a clear majority to impose a candidate in a country where the election of a president often drags on for months, sometimes years.