BEIRUT — Speaking at their monthly meeting with Maronite patriarch Bechara al-Rai in Bkirki, Maronite bishops on Wednesday urged MPs to elect a president who would fill the executive vacuum as soon as possible, and held Parliament "responsible for [the] collapse."
They also insisted on the continuation of the Aug. 4, 2020 port blast investigation and called on politicians to "keep this issue away from political tensions."
"We call for a parliamentary session to elect a head of state, especially since we are on the verge of a total collapse. The MPs are responsible for this collapse, knowing that they continue to delay the election of a president," the bishops said in a statement issued after their meeting.
The country has been without a head of state since the end of Michel Aoun's mandate on Oct. 31, 2022. Parliament has still not succeeded in electing a new president, due to the lack of consensus between the main political parties.
Tensions increased over the port blast probe in recent days following a decision by Lebanon's top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat to release all the detainees in the case and charge lead investigative judge Tarek Bitar, who himself had charged Oueidat.
"We have followed with regret the conflicts within the judiciary that threaten to paralyze the justice system, especially with regard to the explosions at the port," the bishops said. "We call on the officials concerned to keep this case away from political tensions and to continue the investigation until the indictment is issued," the statement said.
On Sunday, Patriarch Rai expressed his support for Bitar.
A second meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Bkirki, also under the leadership of Patriarch Rai. It will bring together Catholic and Orthodox bishops to discuss the presidential vacuum. Rai met last week with Hezbollah's Christian allies, Gebran Bassil and Sleiman Frangieh, both of whom are considered serious presidential candidates.
Last Wednesday, Bassil had pleaded in Bkirki for a dialogue chaired by Patriarch Rai to break the political deadlock. "It is a political and national folly to think that we can elect a president without the Christians," Bassil said, in response to news that Amal and Hezbollah could seek to elect a president without the approval of Christian parties Free Patriotic Movement and Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces.
FPM leader Gebran Bassil announced on Sunday that he could run for president himself if no other candidate is agreed upon.