BEIRUT: Parliament Thursday wrapped up three days of sessions in which lawmakers passed 39 draft laws and postponed discussion on pending proposals until next week, ending more than a year of legislative paralysis.
Speaker Nabih Berri called Parliament to meet next Wednesday and Thursday to discuss, among other draft laws, a proposal concerning the public sector’s new salary scale should it be finalized by Parliament’s joint committees, which are meeting Friday.
Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel asked Berri to include proposed electoral laws on the agenda of Parliament’s next session so that they can be ready for discussion by lawmakers ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled in November.
In response, Berri told lawmakers: “The Parliament speakership did not fail in seeking a new electoral law. ... Proportional [representation] is very important. It’s up to you to decide [on a new electoral law]. But the priority now is to the salary scale.”
MPs convened around 10:30 a.m. in Parliament and debated more than 35 items remaining on its agenda, including a proposal by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to grant compensation to Army officers and soldiers who were relieved in 1990 when Aoun, a former Army commander, launched his self-proclaimed “war of liberation” against the Syrian army in Lebanon.
Berri referred the draft law to a committee for further discussion, and eight other proposals were also pushed back to next week’s scheduled sessions.
Before closing the session, Berri stressed the importance of finalizing the draft law concerning the public sector’s salary scale by next week, which he said would pave the way for lawmakers to begin debating proposed electoral laws.
Failure to agree on and pass a new election law prompted lawmakers to extend Parliament’s four-year mandate by 17 months last May.
A joint parliamentary committee is set to convene Friday to continue discussion on the draft law to increase the salary of civil servants. The Union Coordination Committee, representing public sector employees and teachers, has threatened to resume a series of strikes if the law is not approved soon.
Thursday’s session was marred by a heated argument between Gemayel and Baalbek-Hermel MP Assem Qanso, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, over the presence of the Syrian army in Lebanon between 1976 and 2005.
In defending Aoun’s proposal to grant compensation to the relieved Army officers and soldiers, Gemayel said: “These officers were unable to defend themselves because at the time Lebanon was under Syrian occupation.”
This drew a quick response from Qanso, who praised the role of the Syrian army in Lebanon during its 29-year presence in the country.
“The continued naming of the Syrian Arab Army at that time as an occupation army is rejected. Those who are talking, on top of them, the Kataeb Party, were in government at the time,” Qanso said.
Berri intervened and demanded that the “occupation army” be deleted from the minutes of the discussions. He said the Syrian army was deployed in Lebanon as an Arab deterrent force to snuff out the 1975-90 Civil War.
Responding to Berri, Gemayel said: “For us, the Syrian army was an occupation army.”
During the session, MP Ibrahim Kanaan asked MPs to pass a draft law making Civil Defense volunteers full-time employees as a group of them blocked a road in north Lebanon in an attempt to pressure Parliament.
“Next week will be divisive and will demonstrate our credibility with regard to giving Civil Defense volunteers their rights,” Kanaan said. “Years have passed and Civil Defense continues to do its job for the people. So why should we wait any longer to make them full-time employees?”