BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanon’s Catholic bishops warned that rival politicians’ failure to agree on a consensus candidate for the presidency will lead the country to unprecedented disruption.
The prelates admonished pro-government and opposition leaders and insisted that elections take place “on time and in line with the constitution.”
“The general situation (that) Lebanon is suffering does not call for tranquility, especially the presidential issue, which the Lebanese wait for with anxiety because of the strong tension between the pro-government (forces) and the opposition,” said the Maronite bishops, following their Nov. 7 meeting.
“That’s why we reiterate with insistence our appeal for unity, so the presidential issue will be held in accordance with the Lebanese Constitution,” they said.
Time is running out for Lebanon’s parliament to elect a new head of state before current Lebanese President Emile Lahoud steps down Nov. 24.
Lahoud served one six-year term as stipulated by the constitution. In 2004 his term was extended three years by mandate, under pressure from Syria.
According to Lebanon’s Constitution, the presidential post is reserved for a Maronite Catholic.
Presidential elections have been delayed twice, in September and October, due to a lack of consensus, and the scheduled Nov. 12 session was unlikely to occur unless there was a deal between Lebanon’s ruling majority and the opposition.
Lebanon’s need to fill the presidential post has been accompanied by a flurry of diplomatic activity, both inside and outside the country.
A few hours before meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman Nov. 8, Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, Maronite patriarch, told reporters, “No one can solve our problems better than us (the Lebanese).”
Cardinal Sfeir noted that “the situation we are going through now is worse than what it was 30 years ago.”
“Some are saying the Lebanese will try to use arms to settle matters,” he warned, adding that history has proved that violence “solved nothing.”
The cardinal repeated the importance of electing a president “who is at an equal distance” from political forces and who can bring about Lebanese stability.
In their statement, the bishops said: “The persistence of both sides (the ruling majority and the opposition) to stick to their positions puts the whole country in a critical situation and complete paralysis. This not only obstructs the democratic system which characterizes Lebanon, it will lead Lebanon to a disruption it has never faced before.”
They placed blame on both parties for the current political deadlock – the ruling majority for monopolizing the vote and the opposition for threatening to boycott the election.
In recent weeks, Bkerke, the headquarters of the Maronite Catholic Church, was the venue for a series of meetings among rival Christian leaders on the issue of the presidency. No consensus was reached.
“Finally,” the bishops pointed out, “the responsibility (for the presidency) falls upon the parliament. It is a historic responsibility before God, conscience and the country.”
“The Lebanese people, in general, are fed up with politicians,” the bishops added. At this point, they said, people are concerned about “their daily bread, their children’s tuition and daily worries because of the dreadful high cost of living, lack of job opportunities and economic paralysis.”
Since the summer of 2006, for example, food costs have increased approximately 25 percent.