Political and legal debates have raged in Lebanon over President Michel Aoun’s failure to call for parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister, five days after Saad Hariri resigned from the post.
Media reports have said that Aoun was delaying the consultations in order to resolve some disputes, raising several eyebrows over the legality and constitutionality of his move, amid ongoing tensions and protests in the country against the political class.
The prime minister-designate would be tasked with forming a new government, whose lineup he must present to the president for approval.
The delay in consultations was first pointed out by Progressive Socialist Party leader, former MP Walid Jumblat, who said: “They toss out the constitution for the authoritarianism of one individual and one political party.” He made his remarks in reference to the Free Patriotic Movement and its leader, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is also Aoun’s son-in-law and a target of ridicule among protesters.
“At the height of the political crisis in the country and its social and economic impact (...) along come those who violate the constitution under the pretense of forming a government and later appointing a PM for the sake of the interests of the authoritarianism of one individual and one political party,” he tweeted.
Mustaqbal Movement MP Mohammed all-Hajjar echoed this stance, saying there are “constant attempts to alter the constitution.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The constitution is clear in stipulating that the president must call for parliamentary consultations and then appoint a prime minister, who will form the cabinet.”
“We realize that the current situation demands some political discussions to facilitate the formation of the government ahead of the appointment of a PM, but setting preconditions and several days of delays reveal attempts to veer away from the constitution,” he added.
“This is unacceptable,” he stressed. “The president must appoint a premier, who in turn will carry out his task of submitting a cabinet lineup that will be approved or rejected.”
From the legal angel, opinions have been divided between those who believe the president is a partner in the executive authority and others who believe that the delay in calling consultations has led Lebanon into political vacuum. This is therefore a violation of the constitution and the jurisdiction of the prime minister-designate.
Ministerial sources close to the president denied that Aoun had committed a constitutional violation.
“The constitution does not explicitly stipulate that the president must call for consultations within a specific deadline,” they told Asharq Al-Awsat.
PSP legal expert, lawyer Susan Ismail disagreed, saying the delay has led to vacuum in Lebanon and violated the constitution and PM’s jurisdiction.
“From the very moment Hariri resigned, the FPM has been trying to overthrow the constitution by claiming that parliamentary consultations were non-binding,” she said.
She cited Article 53 of the constitution that says that the president must appoint the PM to form a cabinet after binding parliamentary consultations. Political consultations must not take place before the appointment of a premier.
Demonstrators have been protesting against Lebanon’s ruling elite since October 17, leading to the resignation of Hariri last week and deepening a political crisis and complicating efforts to enact badly needed economic reforms in the country.