BEIRUT — Head of the Maronite Church Bechara al-Rai on Sunday expressed his indignation over a Parliament session scheduled for Tuesday to decide the fate of municipal elections at a time when MPs have not met for months to tackle the task of electing a president for the country. Rai denounced the "absurdity" of the pretexts put forward by political leaders on these two issues.
The same criticism was expressed by the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut, Archbishop Elias Audi, who said in his homily on the occasion of Easter Sunday that Parliament has failed in several of its responsibilities, including that of electing a head of state.
The office of the president has been vacant since Michel Aoun's term ended on Oct. 31.
In his homily on Sunday at Bkirki, Rai addressed the country's MPs: "How can you refuse to meet to elect a president, thus perpetuating the presidential vacuum, while you meet and ensure the quorum to postpone another constitutional and democratic deadline, the municipal elections and that of the mokhtars?"
"You do not care about the people and the constitution, and you renew mandates that have expired," he said. He qualified as "absurd" the reason behind a proposed municipal elections postponement: the lack of funds to cover the costs.
The head of parliament, Nabih Berri, has scheduled a legislative meeting for Tuesday, April 18, during which MPs will be asked to vote on postponing the municipal elections. The parliamentary session is scheduled to take place a few hours before a cabinet meeting devoted to financing the elections. These two meetings have been called as the legislature and the cabinet debate whether to fund or postpone the elections.
The patriarch also criticized the "absurdity" of blocking the presidential election while waiting for an "agreement on a candidate."
"Where were you, parliamentary groups, during the six years of the previous mandate? Why didn't you agree before on a candidate," he asked.
"With this nonsense, you have made it clear that you are not worthy of the responsibility that has been entrusted to you, and, in spite of everything, you confiscate this responsibility, at the cost of the destruction of the state, [and] the impoverishment and death of the people," he continued.
"Is this not a betrayal of the trust that the people have placed in you?" Rai added.
Rai also stressed that the "lightness" with which the move to postpone the municipal elections is being taken, contrasting it with the "seriousness" of the work of the Ministry of Interior to prepare for the elections. Rai recalled that the caretaker interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, had asked the government in January to find the necessary funds for the polls.
During a meeting with the Maronite patriarch on Thursday, Mawlawi discussed the importance of the presidential election and denounced a "political will" to postpone the municipal deadline.
The patriarch also condemned Israeli police violence against Christians celebrating Orthodox Easter and Ramadan prayers in the holy places in Jerusalem.
The Israeli police stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque on the night of April 12 to dislodge worshippers who were barricaded inside. More than 350 people were arrested in the violent raid. Israel's actions drew strong condemnation from across the Arab world.
On Saturday, Israel imposed restrictions on Christians wishing to go to the Holy Sepulcher for celebrations of the "holy fire."
Bishop Audi for real reforms
For his part, Audi also criticized the stalemate in the presidential election during his Easter mass.
"Nearly a year has passed since the election of members of parliament, and months since the presidential vacuum began, which has severely damaged the confidence of the international community and citizens," he said.
"The leaders, who have sown corruption in all institutions and sectors, especially education, have become the cause of the death of the country and the genocide of its people. He stressed that "our country needs renewal, real reforms that affect all sectors, and that require a political decision that cannot be taken without the president of the republic.
Audi also denounced the fact that MPs are "unable to perform their simplest duties, including first electing a head of state."