Lebanon News

Political deal underway: Wage hike before extension

March 14 ministers inside the Parliament's assembly, Thursday, July 23, 2014 (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament,HO)

BEIRUT: Talks between rival Parliament blocs are cooking up a comprehensive deal that will start by passing the wage hike and end by extending Parliament’s term and resolving the budget spending matter, a legislative source told The Daily Star.

If the efforts succeed, the source said, the Parliament will hold a legislative session soon, in which it will discuss and pass the long-awaited ranks and salaries scale. However, passing the hike is most likely to come after reducing the pay rises, in accordance with the Future Movement’s position on the matter.

The Parliament would also find a legal exit for Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s issuance of passing certificates for Grade 9 and 12 students, the source said. Although the students will receive their certificates before any legislative action, the approval will mean the minister's decision will have legal backing.

In turn, dealing with these two issues would form a good counter-argument to Speaker Nabih Berri’s view that Parliament’s previous extension was useless, the source said. After extending Parliament’s term, a step that will almost definitely occur according to the source, lawmakers will then move to resolve the public spending dispute.

In this vein, again according to the same source, the deal will include finalizing the $11 billion extra-budgetary spending of former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet. This will eventually lead to resolving the public spending matter, allowing the current Cabinet to pay public sector employees’ wages.

Siniora and the Future Movement have refused to finalize the current budgetary talks before coming to a final agreement on the legitimacy of the spending performed previously under Siniora's government.

However the sources said that nothing new was underway concerning presidential elections, especially after Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah confirmed Friday that March 14 should discuss the issue with MP Michel Aoun, March 8’s only presidential candidate so far.

The sources said that objections to the extension by FPM, Lebanese Forces and Kataeb cannot stop it, because the extension draft law will eventually go into effect if the President does not approve it within a month. In the case of presidential void, all the members of the Cabinet should approve the law, or else the mandate will be automatically renewed.

The opponents to extension are most likely going to complain to the constitutional council again, the source said, as they did last year. However, such a complaint is not expected to hinder the renewal of the parliamentary term.

Lebanese lawmakers had extended the mandate by 17 months in a 10 minute-session in May 2013, despite wide condemnation by many civil society and political groups. The excuse for the extension was the turmoil caused by the security situation, which is the same justification given by many MPs supporting another renewal.

The deal might come despite an ongoing tension between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, especially after the former’s officials seemed to discard any possibility of direct dialogue anytime soon.

An article published Sunday by the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat said that Future sources consider the dispute over Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as a “central matter that cannot be skipped over.”

The sources reportedly criticized Hezbollah’s Nasrallah for neglecting the importance of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon in his last speech Friday.

Al-Hayat said that neutral observers had noticed that none of Hezbollah’s officials had called Hariri to congratulate him for returning, “as dictated by the protocols regardless of the disagreements.”

“Starting from his eagerness to break the environment of Sunni-Shiite tension, Hariri has deepened the dialogue with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri ... due to his central position in the Shiite sect,” the sources added.

However, a similar dialogue with Hezbollah is not possible as long as Iran insists on “fighting in the Syrian war through Lebanon.” If Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria depends on an Iranian decision, the Future officials said: “This should be treated as a military intervention in Lebanese affairs.”

Many Future MPs Saturday condemned Nasrallah’s speech, stressing that Hezbollah’s armed existence in Syria was not protecting Lebanon, but furthering its exposure to terrorist extremism.

“Contradicting Nasrallah’s claim that his fighting in Syria protects Lebanon, Arsal’s incident confirmed that Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian war has not protected Lebanon, and that extremism creates more extremism,” Future MP Nabil de Freij said in a radio interview.

Amin Wehbi, another Future bloc member, also denounced Nasrallah’s speech as “arrogant” saying the party’s existence in Syria pushed the Lebanese to experience the Syrian people’s suffering.





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