Lebanon's parliament concluded a controversial session on Thursday with the decision that the caretaker government would continue operating in its limited capacity, despite objections raised by former president Michel Aoun, whose term ended this week.
Numerous MPs in the assembly decried the session as being a breach of the constitution, arguing it would be better spent on the election of a new president, as the government is dealing with an unprecedented leadership vacuum.
The session was called to discuss a letter sent by Mr Aoun one day before the end of his term, which called for the resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Mr Aoun called on the assembly to take the “necessary measures” towards Mr Mikati, who presently leads a limited government operating in a caretaker capacity.
Constitutional experts have dismissed the letter as ineffectual.
“It's just a political statement saying the government can continue as a caretaker government,” said Wissam Lahham, a professor at the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut.
“They added it should limit itself to extreme necessities.”
Under normal circumstances, the government would be given the task of taking over the responsibilities of the president.
But the present government is considered automatically resigned after the parliamentary election on May 15, raising debate within political blocs as to whether constitutional protocol can apply to a caretaker government.
The unprecedented situation comes as Lebanon continues to deal with one of the worst economic crises in modern history — now without a president and without an empowered government.
Mr Mikati has failed to form a new government in the four months since he was chosen as prime minister-designate through parliamentary consultations. He and Mr Aoun have frequently butted heads over the list of names in his proposed Cabinet line-up.
Meanwhile, parliament has failed to elect a successor to Mr Aoun in four attempts, with no candidate receiving the required number of votes.
Gebran Bassil, Mr Aoun's son-in-law and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founded by the former president, accused Mr Mikati of deliberately leaving a presidential vacuum.
“The will not to form a government is clear,” Mr Bassil said. “Mikati said that there is no need to form a government in these coming days and this matter constitutes a dangerous precedent in our constitution.”
The crux of the controversy lies in Mr Mikati’s interpretation of the constitution, which is that a caretaker government can take over the duties of the head of state.
The FPM says this interpretation is wrong.
“We decided in the meeting today that he [Mr Mikati] can't make decisions,” Mr Bassil said.
George Adwan, an MP from the Lebanese Forces — a Saudi-allied Christian party — clarified the conclusion reached at the end of the session.
“We decided the government should continue in a caretaker capacity and within its limited caretaker capacity,” he said.
Numerous MPs withdrew from the session in protest, including independent and opposition MPs.
Two MPs from the Forces of Change, an opposition bloc that was formed through Lebanon's October 17 protest movement, boycotted the session, arguing parliament should only convene to elect a president and for no other reason.
Sami Gemayel, an MP and head of the Christian Kataeb party, said after walking out that convening the session to discuss Mr Aoun’s letter was a constitutional breach and a sectarian trap.
A fifth session to elect Lebanon's president will be held next Thursday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced before the end of the day's session.
Mr Adwan, who is vice president of the Lebanese Forces, said: “The only solution is to elect a new president so we can leave these discussions behind.”