BEIRUT: A meeting between Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati on Wednesday ended without any indication that a new government might soon be formed.
Aoun’s term ends on Oct. 1 and the constitutional deadline for electing his replacement begins on Sept. 1. But with a successor yet to be determined concerns are rising about the possibility of a presidential vacuum.
Talks on forming a government have been suspended for several weeks because of tensions between Mikati and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement party Gibran Bassil over the selection of ministers and their political affiliations, and the FPM’s demand for a “blocking third” in government.
“Forming the government is an urgent need to keep pace with all the pending issues, such as the maritime border demarcation and the agreement with the International Monetary Fund,” Lebanese lawmaker Michel Moussa said.
“All parties are required to make concessions and form the government no matter how close we are to the presidential elections, so we can avoid any problems or conflicting constitutional jurisprudence.”
A political observer, who asked not to be named, said the forces involved were not taking the issue of forming a government seriously.
“They act as if they have the luxury of time, which is not the case here. The dispute between Mikati and the FPM is worsening. They failed to reach an agreement over the past weeks, so there is no way they can reach a last-minute agreement and have enough time to form a government and obtain Parliament’s vote of confidence before the latter turns into an electoral body,” he said.
Speculation has been increasing as to the fate of the president’s powers and whether a caretaker government can take over or if the incumbent leader might remain in office.
The Lebanese constitution stipulates: “Should there be a vacancy in the presidency for any reason whatsoever, the government shall exercise the authorities of the president by delegation.”
Lebanon experienced a similar power vacuum in 1988 at the end of both President Amin Gemayel’s term and the government of Prime Minister Salim Al-Hoss. The situation of a resigned government taking over the powers of the president thus emerged and the country found itself with two power groups, one led by Aoun and the other by Al-Hoss.
Legal expert Edmond Rabat said at the time that the resigned government remained in caretaker mode and under exceptional circumstances could resume power.