BEIRUT: Parliament failed to convene Monday for a fifth consecutive time in three months. A lack of quorum again foiled the attempt as Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat and Amal lawmaker Ali Bazzi traded barbs over the legality of the session. Speaker Nabih Berri postponed the session to Oct. 23, but its controversial agenda remains unchanged.
On Oct. 22, Parliament will convene automatically to elect members of parliamentary committees and Parliament’s Secretariat. Parliament’s regular term begins in October.
Berri did not come to Parliament, but MPs from his bloc and that of Hezbollah along with the Marada Movement, the Baath Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party came.
As usual, Fatfat and MP Ammar Houri, also from the Future bloc, showed up in Parliament, reiterating the stance of their coalition.
Berri had postponed four prior legislative sessions due to a lack of quorum.
Berri first called for the session in June to discuss 45 agenda items. But caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies decided to boycott the session, arguing that under a resigned government, Parliament could only convene to discuss urgent agenda items.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s bloc have been boycotting the sessions in opposition to a draft law on the agenda that would extend the mandate of top security officials due to retire. Aoun has also called for adding discussions about the Orthodox electoral proposal to the agenda.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament, Fatfat said that during the meeting of Parliament’s Secretariat to decide on the session’s agenda in June, Berri told members of the Secretariat representing the March 14 coalition that he agreed with Mikati on convening the session and on its agenda. Thus, the March 14 members approved it.
“But when members of the Secretariat left the meeting, it turned out that there was no agreement reached [between Berri and Mikati],” he said, adding that this made the session illegal and prompted March 14 MPs to renege on their decision to back the agenda.
“We call on for a new meeting for Parliament’s Secretariat during which urgent items are specified and then we are ready to attend [the session],” Fatfat said.
Fatfat voiced surprise over what he called Berri’s intransigence, manifested in his insistence on keeping the same agenda for the session. By doing this, Berri was obstructing the work of Parliament, Fatfat said.
Fatfat said that Future Movement MPs would attend the Parliament session to elect members of the committees and Parliament’s Secretariat.
Responding to Fatfat, Bazzi described some Future MPs as “boys” who lack any sense of national and political responsibility and know little about constitutional laws that govern the functions of institutions, particularly Parliament.
Bazzi said that in line with Parliament’s bylaws, Parliament’s Secretariat approved the session’s agenda which was also supported by Mikati.
“This was before he [Mikati] changed his mind for reasons that have nothing to do with the Constitution and that are only known by Mikati,” Bazzi said in a statement he read in Parliament on behalf of Berri’s bloc.
When contacted by The Daily Star, a source close to Mikati refused to comment on the issue.
Fatfat hit back at Bazzi in a statement, slamming his “insulting and militia-like” rhetoric.
“Bazzi once again chose to use his insulting rhetoric because he lacks political arguments and I am not going to stoop to this level of political discourse,” Fatfat said. “When a person loses political arguments, he usually resorts to insults.”
Bazzi snapped back saying: “At least what he calls a militia did not serve tea to the Israeli enemy in the Marjayoun [Internal Security Forces] barracks.”
Bazzi was referring to an incident during Israel’s summer 2006 war against Lebanon when ISF personnel in the southern town of Marjayoun provided tea to Israeli soldiers who came into their barracks after taking over the town.
The March 8 coalition holds Fatfat, who was an acting interior minister back then, responsible for the incident. But Fatfat denies responsibility.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Hasbaya MP Qassem Hashem, from Berri’s bloc, said he expected that most members of parliamentary committees and Parliament’s Secretariat would be re-elected during the session of Oct. 22, while few would be replaced.
Hashem said it was likely that the March 14 coalition would retain the majority in Parliament’s Secretariat.
Asked what would happen if the newly elected Parliament’s Secretariat insisted on amending the session’s agenda, Hashem said: “This country is only ruled through consensus.”
For his part, Houri expected that the new Parliament’s Secretariat would demand amending the agenda and making it shorter.
Other MPs said they expected that the same blocs would continue to boycott Parliament sessions called for by Berri, saying this was part of the political crisis in the country. The MPs expected Parliament to be able to convene once a Cabinet backed by all groups was formed.