With no solution in sight to the four-month-old Cabinet deadlock, the March 14 coalition may push for the election of a new Parliament speaker as part of its pressure on Nabih Berri to help facilitate the formation of a fait accompli government, political sources said.
March 14 MP Marwan Hamade, a member of Parliament’s Secretariat, dropped this hint during an interview with the Future TV station last week, when he said that the mandate of Parliament, rather than that of its speaker, has been extended for 17 months.
In addition to creating a new bone of contention between the March 8 and March 14 parties, Hamade’s suggestion pointed to the possibility of putting Berri’s speakership under discussion when the legislature’s regular session begins on the first Tuesday after Oct. 15.
During this session, members of Parliament’s Secretariat and parliamentary committees and their heads are supposed to be elected.
Sources in the March 14 coalition, citing Article 44 of the Constitution, say that Parliament, two years after the election of its speaker and deputy speaker, can in one term withdraw confidence from its speaker or deputy speaker with an absolute majority based on a petition signed by at least 10 lawmakers.
Some March 14 sources say that the extension of Parliament’s mandate for 17 months requires the renewal of confidence in its speaker and its deputy, especially since this did not happen two years after the start of Parliament’s term.
While the additional 17 months are viewed as a renewal of Parliament’s mandate, this consequently necessitates the convening of a session in October to elect a speaker and a deputy speaker, in addition to members of the legislature’s Secretariat, the sources said.
However, some observers see the talk about the election of a new Parliament speaker and deputy as a means of pressure, not to say “blackmail,” on Berri to obtain certain political gains, particularly with regard to the formation of a new Cabinet.
A quick survey of the MPs’ stances shows that March 14 and independent lawmakers constitute half of the Parliament’s 128 members, while the March 8 side holds a similar number. Yet, the parliamentary blocs of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, MP Walid Jumblatt and MP Michel Murr hold the decisive votes.
Given the current political polarization between Berri, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and some of Aoun’s allies in the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, particularly the Marada Movement and Aley MP Talal Arslan, this might prompt the FPM leader and his MPs to abstain from voting for Berri, but this does not necessarily mean that they would vote for another candidate who could be proposed by the March 14 coalition against Berri.
For his part, Berri is betting on Jumblatt’s MPs, who along with MPs from his parliamentary bloc and those from the blocs of Hezbollah, Arslan, MP Suleiman Franjieh, the Baath Party and Murr constitute an absolute majority needed for him to return to the speakership.
Amid growing calls for a neutral or fait accompli Cabinet mainly by the March 14 parties, political sources said that the formation of such a government means that the political team comprising President Michel Sleiman, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Jumblatt and March 14 lawmakers has opted for a political confrontation with the rival March 8 alliance, but this confrontation could not be completed without a change in the legislative authority.
If a fait accompli Cabinet is not formed, the channels of communications will remain in place between Berri and the other [March 14] side, especially since Jumblatt will not easily abandon the Parliament speaker, the sources said.
Berri, who has maintained relations with the March 14 side, such as with former President Amin Gemayel, is confident that this side’s objection to his performance will not reach the stage of a political confrontation with him because sectarian balances and norms in the country make it difficult to promote another candidate to the speakership, especially if this candidate does not enjoy the support of the Shiite community, namely the Hezbollah-Amal coalition, the sources added.
Therefore, the sources considered Hamade’s statement to Future TV either as a slip of the tongue, excessive enthusiasm or a message that carries with it dangerous signals concerning the current political setup in the country.