BEIRUT — Members of Parliament should elect one of the two frontrunner candidates for president — Sleiman Frangieh and Jihad Azour — before considering dialogue over a potential third candidate, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai said Sunday.
"Two Maronite candidates are running for president. Go to Parliament and elect one of them according to the constitution," the Patriarch said in his Sunday homily. "If neither is elected after at least three consecutive rounds, hold dialogue at that point to find a third candidate."
"Enough wasted time while institutions fall one after the other and you simply wait for inspiration from abroad," Rai added.
Lebanon has been without a president for more than eight months, while Najib Mikati's government has been in caretaker mode without full powers since May 2022's legislative elections.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has still not convened Parliament since the 12th electoral session on June 14, which ended in yet another failure to elect a president.
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement held out for the candidacy of Marada Movement leader Frangieh, while the opposition tried to unite around the candidacy of former minister Jihad Azour during the last session.
Neither of them garnered enough votes to win office.
In an attempt to break the deadlock, France dispatched its special envoy for Lebanon, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Beirut in June.
After a series of meetings with several political leaders, Le Drian called for the election of a president without further delay. He is due to visit Beirut again "in the coming weeks," according to the French Foreign Ministry.
The question of prerogatives
Rai also criticized the fact that "Parliament has become a legislative body, whereas it has only been an electoral body since the beginning of the presidential vacancy." Under Lebanese law, Parliament is meant to act merely as a body for electing a new president during periods of executive vacuum, and cannot enact new legislation.
He also criticized politicians for "granting the resigning cabinet the prerogatives reserved for the president in the context of appointments reserved for him."
Mikati has repeatedly convened his cabinet to discuss an agenda that is not exclusively reserved for urgent matters, though cabinet is meant only to handle urgent issues during executive vacuums, his critics say.
Several senior appointments are also due to take place shortly, including that of a new governor of the Banque du Liban, as Riad Salameh's term expires at the end of July. Army commander-in-chief Joseph Aoun is also due to retire, in January 2024.
"You are creating a constitutional conflict on top of the political division," Rai said on Sunday.
He added that "the greatest necessity, which is also the key to resolving [your] complexities, is the election of a president."