By Doreen Abi Raad | Catholic News Service
BEIRUT (CNS) — With a presidential vacuum in Lebanon, the country’s Catholic religious leaders urged parliament “to elect a president immediately.”
In a statement at the conclusion of their 55th annual general assembly Nov. 7-11, the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon warned that “without a president, the state will plunge into total paralysis.”
The six-year mandate of former President Michel Aoun expired Oct. 31.
Lebanon’s parliament has convened five times since the start of the electoral period at the end of August to try to elect a new president, but without success due to the lack of consensus among political parties. Another session is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Under Lebanon’s power-sharing system, its president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.
“There is no priority that is higher than … electing a president, and we call on MPs to elect a president immediately,” the patriarchs and bishops said in their statement.
“Without a president, there can be no protection of the constitution, no supervision over the regularity of the work of state institutions, no separation of powers and no exit from the political, economic and financial paralysis,” the prelates said.
“Without a president, the state will plunge into total paralysis,” they warned.
“Lebanon is going through the most dangerous stage in its political, social, economic and financial history,” the patriarchs and bishops said.
Lebanon is in the midst of a three-year economic meltdown that has propelled nearly 80% of the population into poverty in what was considered a middle-class country. The currency has devalued by more than 90%, inflation has reached triple digits, unemployment has skyrocketed and banks have imposed restrictions on their customer’s deposits.
Citing “the economic, social and living deprivation” that has brought most of the Lebanese “to a state of poverty and destitution,” the prelates said they would help the people by providing “all possible assistance through the patriarchal, diocesan, monastic and pastoral institutions, especially Caritas Lebanon.” They particularly cited help with education and hospitalization.
They expressed thanks for the spirit of solidarity, particularly among the Lebanese diaspora and people around the world “in providing moral, financial and in-kind assistance to the needy to alleviate their tragedies and confront the catastrophic situation.”
Pope Francis, returning on the papal plane from his apostolic visit to Bahrain Nov. 6, also addressed Lebanon’s power vacuum, saying, “I call on Lebanese politicians to put aside their personal interests, pay attention to the country and reach an agreement.”