07/17/2007, 00.00
LEBANON

Presidential election at risk if constitution not respected, says Cardinal Sfeir

Maronite patriarch warns against the danger that ruling majority and opposition choose each their own president. A French envoy is said to be already in Damascus. Lebanese army death toll in clashes in Nahr al-Bared now stands at 100.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Lebanon’s ongoing crisis saw two new elements today. Maronite Patriarch Card Nasrallah Sfeir spoke about the quorum needed to elect a new president, an issue that is still at the centre of discussions and controversy, and the announcement that a French envoy has probably arrived already in the region. Meanwhile the number of Lebanese soldiers killed in clashes in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp now stands at 100 with Fatah al-Islam terrorists now cornered in a 300 m by 600 m redoubt.

Politically, both ruling majority and opposition in their public statements agree that the meeting at La Celle Saint-Cloud Château in France has improved the climate even though there is no agreement as to what steps should be taken next.

The bone of contention remains the government of national unity, which the opposition considers a priority despite the fact that current government’s mandate ends in just two months, and the presidential election, in particular what parliamentary majority should be required to elected the next head of state.

Cardinal Sfeir spoke about this issue in Diman, his summer residence, where he received a delegation from the Lebanese Democratic Party.

“If constitutional articles are violated and the president is not elected according to a two-thirds quorum, this will encourage other groups to elect their own president and then the country will plunge into chaos,” he said.

The Lebanese Constitution states that any president, by convention a Christian, must be elected by a two-thirds parliamentary quorum. If a quorum is not present for voting, a second round of elections is to be held, in which the president is elected by absolute majority.

The March 14 Forces have threatened to elect the next president by absolute majority, if opposition MPs decide to boycott the election session at the Parliament, scheduled for September, which should pick outgoing President Émile Lahoud’s replacement.

“The next president should be non-aligned and able to strengthen and revive the role of the president,” he added.

Cardinal Sfeir added that the La Celle Saint-Cloud meeting showed the need for dialogue among political groups.

The daily As Safir reported that French envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran is already in Damascus to continue the dialogue. His would be the first high-level meeting between the new Sarkozy administration and the Syrian regime. (PD)

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