Talking To: Edmund Rizk

Former minister Edmond Rizk said that no initiative undertaken by a party other than the government of PM Siniora is valid. He also said that neither dialogue nor consultations can replace necessity of convening parliament. Moreover, Rizk said that based on parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s position of responsibility, his long practice and his supposed knowledge of the constitution, he cannot stand behind the proposal he launched in Baalbek two weeks ago and defended this week on the LBCI talk show Kalam An-Nass.

“I presume good faith [on his part] as far as attempting to reach some sort of settlement. But what is needed is an integrated solution that is within the framework of the government institutions.” According to Rizk, Berri’s interpretation of Article 49 of the constitution indicates one of two things: “It is either his constitutional ignorance, which is not admissible, or bad faith.” He said: “We could not imagine that political embarrassment would reach this point. In other words, when Berri brought up the issue of the absolute majority that is required after the first session, he omitted to mention that this absolute majority (i.e. 50 % plus one) is the number of votes needed to win, not a quorum. Indeed, the constitutional legislator linked winning the presidency to [obtaining] no less than the absolute majority of MPs.”

Rizk said people who think that it is wrong to elect a president according to half of the absolute majority are attempting to avoid implementing the constitution. He said: “The only initiative required of Speaker Berri is that he and his bloc take part in the [electoral] session. If they do, the legitimacy of this session would no longer be questioned as the quorum would be provided.”

He added: “Article 49 stipulates that a president can only be elected after winning two-thirds of the votes in the first session and the absolute majority of votes in subsequent sessions. A president can only be elected by the absolute majority of MPs in the second round. Article 73 of the constitution asserts, in turn, the priority of holding the elections and preventing a void in the presidency. The article makes it compulsory for parliament to convene during the last ten days [of a president’s mandate].”

Rizk added that Berri was wrong when he said during his televised interview that parliament is not responsible for interpreting the constitution. Rizk said: “The parliament Speaker’s duties are to run the sessions and take administrative action. However, he carries the same legislative weight as any other MP.” Rizk continued: “In 1970, Speaker Sabri Hamadeh refused to announce the results, which were instead announced by then-vice speaker Michel Sassine. The problem ended because certain wise people decided not to push the country into chaos and [a presidential] void.”

According to Rizk, Berri’s priority should be to prevent a presidential void. Berri stressed on the two-thirds quorum because he wants to see the president elected by the most MPs, but he still might support elections based on an absolute majority. “Speaker Berri is circumventing the issue in the media to portray himself as someone who is performing his duties. He has one duty: to open the parliament, not to launch initiatives.” Rizk refused to comment on Berri’s visit to Bkirki, and said, “Berri does not grant any importance to the meeting. If one has good faith, one has to act accordingly and without hesitation.”

For Rizk, a presidential void or the election of a consensus candidate without any ideas for a solution would be a fatal blow to all of Lebanon, but to the Christians in particular. He said: “Lebanon needs a methodology for a solution rather than a settlement. The president should have only one platform: the implementation of the Taif Agreement. The republic should not face the danger of being cancelled.”

With regard to the issue of armament, Rizk said, “weapons should only be possessed by the Lebanese state, the sole responsible for the country’s security. I am against any form of self-security and against the establishment of any [armed] organization because I support the Taif Agreement. Indeed, it is the only agreement that allowed us to leave the state we were stuck in after the presidential void in 1988. That void was created by greed, and an amputated government composed of three Christians facing a person who retained the army command while being head-of-state without the confidence of the MPs. This person acted randomly, waged wars, refrained from abiding by the Taif decisions and did not elect a president. He caused the country to be occupied yet again by the Syrians. If this repeats itself, then bid farewell to the Lebanese Republic.”