Beirut: Twenty-four hours before Nabih Berri convened parliament for the third round of voting to elect a new president, the Speaker added his considerable voice to that of the out-going head of state, when he stressed that power-sharing between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon would not change under any circumstances.

According to the independent Al Nahar daily, Berri reportedly stood by Michel Sulaiman during the latest national dialogue session, hammering that “there was no going back from the concept of power-sharing.”

On Sunday, Sulaiman reiterated that lawmakers ought not “drag the country and its citizens into a constituent assembly that would topple the Taif Accords and equal power-sharing.” Calls for a fresh post-Taif constitutional assembly were often made by Hezbollah tenors, a proposal that was categorically rejected by a vast majority of Lebanese, most of whom did not wish to relive their civil war.

Speaker Berri, Al Nahar emphasised, responded to Sulaiman during Monday’s all-party talks, saying he was speaking on behalf of Shiites, Sunnis and Druze and even raised the necessity to finally create a Senate as envisaged by the 1989 Taif Accords. He added: “there is a possibility to form this senate in accordance with the Orthodox Gathering electoral draft-law in parallel with the election of a parliament based on proportional representation and the consideration of Lebanon as a single district.”

Whether the Speaker’s desires — to combine a specific plank in a duly approved agreement with the much derided electoral law over which no consensus existed — would survive, remained to be determined, although observers gave him credit for the effort. Opponents who rejected the very idea of a Senate, and who even disapproved of parliament’s last extension to 128 members — demanding that no more than half that number was required to run the affairs of this country — were confronted with existential dilemmas to settle on a presidential candidate.

Rai’s Jerusalem visit

Equally powerful sparks apparently flew at the national dialogue session, according to Al Liwa’, which claimed that Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Junblatt asked Christian political leaders to persuade Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to cancel his upcoming visit to occupied Jerusalem to accompany Pope Francis. The pro-March 14 newspaper claimed that the cardinal would commit an error, even if the latter told Al Nahar that his visit would oppose Israeli occupation. Rai emphasised that he would stress how attached Christians were to the Holy Lands. “You want the Palestinian cause?,” he hammered, “then I m going there to tell them that we support you and we are at your side.” “Jerusalem is our city. Enough criticism. This is a shame,” Rai declared.

The Cardinal made additional news on Tuesday, according to the pro-Hezbollah daily Al Akhbar, which reported that the cleric proposed during talks with Future Movement leader Sa‘ad Hariri in Paris to extend President Michel Sulaiman’s tenure as a stopgap measure. It was unclear whether there was any truth to the story although Beirut rumour mills churned out similar fare on an industrial scale.