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Compromise could end Parliament boycott
File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri speaks on the phone at his summer house in Msaileh, Lebanon, Wednesday, April 11, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri speaks on the phone at his summer house in Msaileh, Lebanon, Wednesday, April 11, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
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BEIRUT: Parliament will convene Tuesday to elect committee and secretariat members, but the fate of the legislative session to follow the next day remains unclear, as boycotting parties firmly stand their ground.

A source close to Speaker Nabih Berri expected intense discussions to take place on the sidelines of Tuesday’s session between Berri and other heads of parliamentary blocs in an attempt to reach consensus and end the boycott.

“The session is not expected to be long and an opportunity for discussion will emerge on its sidelines since MPs from various blocs will be present,” the source, requesting to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star.

The source added that Berri would meet former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who heads the Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and other parliamentary heads on the sidelines of the session.

“I believe there is a possibility there will be a change in stances, but I don’t know how significant and productive it will be. The fact that Parliament’s regular term has started could induce parties to end their boycott,” he said.

Parliament’s regular term begins on the first Tuesday after Oct. 15.

Berri has called for a two-day legislative session starting Wednesday to discuss an agenda of 45 items. The very same session has failed to convene several times since July for lack of quorum.

MPs from the Future bloc, other March 14 lawmakers, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc have all boycotted the sessions.

Mikati and March 14 lawmakers argue that under a caretaker government Parliament can only discuss urgent issues. But Berri argues that Parliament can convene at any time to discuss issues.

MPs from Aoun’s bloc have boycotted the session in protest against the exclusion from the agenda of draft laws presented by their party.

Future Movement MP Jamal Jarrah said that Future lawmakers would not attend Wednesday’s session if the agenda remained unchanged.

“He who is obstructing legislation is the one who put an agenda with so many items that are not urgent or necessary,” Jarrah said, referring to Berri. “It will mark a precedent to look into all these draft laws in a legislative session under a caretaker government,” explained Jarrah, a lawmaker for Western Bekaa. He added that although Parliament’s regular term had started, the country was still under a caretaker Cabinet.

Similarly, Koura MP Fadi Karam, from the Lebanese Forces bloc, said that his group would still boycott Wednesday’s session so long as the agenda remained unchanged.

“For sure we will not attend the session, we do not consider it to be a legislative session. The items on the agenda are not urgent,” Karam said.

Karam added that the newly elected members of Parliament’s Secretariat should meet and itemize a new agenda with only pressing items.

MPs from Berri’s bloc said that the speaker would not convene Wednesday’s session in the absence of Future bloc MPs even if there was a quorum. Berri, the MPs continued, believed that convening a session without the Future Movement, which represents the majority of the Sunni sect, violated the National Pact.

“The speaker is eager that participation in Wednesday’s session be strong. There should be consensus [among various political parties] over attending Wednesday’s session,” said Zahrani MP Michel Musa, from Berri’s bloc.

Parliamentary sources said that a compromise would not make Berri or March 14 groups feel that they conceded something important.

The sources said that according to a compromise proposed by the Future bloc, its lawmakers would attend Wednesday’s session with Berri’s 45-item agenda.

In return, Parliament would hold another session Thursday with a different agenda including only urgent items that the newly elected members of Parliament’s Secretariat would agree on in a meeting Tuesday. But the sources said it remained unclear whether Berri would accept such a proposal.

MPs from Aoun’s bloc denied media reports that they would attend Wednesday’s session, adding that contacts were ongoing with Berri and that they had yet to decide whether to attend. But the lawmakers added that their participation was not important since Berri decided not to convene any session boycotted by the Future Movement even if a quorum was achieved.MPs from rival parties will attend Tuesday’s session, which will not involve any legislative activity. Lawmakers from various parliamentary blocs said the current heads of the parliamentary committees and members of Parliament’s Secretariat were likely to be re-elected to avoid divisions, as the balance of power between rival political groups has not changed.

A number of MPs expected Tuesday’s session to be short.

Separately, President Michel Sleiman discussed local developments with caretaker Prime Minister Majib Mikati, who paid him a visit at the Baabda Palace, according to a statement from Sleiman’s office.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2013, on page 1.
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