BEIRUT: The Future Movement and the Amal Movement have begun a dialogue designed to defuse Sunni-Shiite tensions and resolve some key political issues that have threatened to paralyze the role of Parliament and the Cabinet, a ministerial source said.
The ongoing dialogue was launched recently between top aides of Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal Movement, and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Movement.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, has held two meetings with Nader Hariri, head of Saad Hariri’s office, to discuss a wide range of key domestic political issues, including deep divisions between the March 8 and March 14 camps over the presidential election deadlock and the role of Parliament and the Cabinet during the vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.
The results of the Khalil-Hariri talks have led to a breakthrough over the payment of civil servants’ salaries and the long-running crisis over the public sector’s salary scale bill, eventually setting the stage for a Parliament session next week to act on these two issues, the source said.
The presidential vacuum, now in its second month, has crippled Parliament’s role. March 14 MPs have attended Parliament sessions to elect a president, but boycotted other sessions on the grounds that Parliament should not legislate while the presidency seat remained vacant.
Similarly, March 8 lawmakers, while they support holding legislative sessions even amid the presidential void, have boycotted sessions to elect a president before an agreement is reached with their March 14 rivals on a consensus candidate.
“The two sides [Amal and Future Movements] have agreed on the need to defuse Sunni-Shiite tensions in Lebanon and to protect the country from any violent fallout from the turmoil in Syria and Iraq,” the source told The Daily Star.
Khalil, who is currently locked in a row with the March 14 coalition over the legalization of extra-budgetary spending – an issue that threatens the payment of civil servants at the end of this month – discussed this matter with Hariri along with the thorny issue of the public sector’s salary scale bill.
“The talks between the two sides have led to a breakthrough whereby a Parliament session will be held next week to endorse draft laws on extra-budgetary spending and the public sector’s wage hike bill,” the source said.
The Cabinet failed Thursday to resolve the thorny issues of Lebanese University’s contract professors and extra-budgetary spending, leaving the fate of the state-run LU and salaries of civil servants hanging in the balance.
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said Cabinet action on the issue of employing LU’s contract professors as full timers was postponed until next week’s session amid lingering differences among ministers.
Khalil and Hariri also discussed the vacuum in the presidency seat and Parliament’s repeated failures to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.
“However, Khalil and Hariri did not touch in their talks on the possibility of a new extension of Parliament’s mandate,” the source said.
After failing to agree on a new electoral law, lawmakers last year extended Parliament’s mandate by 17 months.
With no solution in sight to the presidential election crisis, there are growing fears that the deadlock could lead to another extension of Parliament’s term which expires in November.