Lebanon News

Election and salary scale sessions precarious

Speaker Nabih Berri, right, receives France's Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli in Beirut, Friday, June 6, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: A new Parliament session next week to elect a president is not expected to be held for lack of a quorum, while another session to discuss the public sector’s salary scale draft law hangs in the balance as parliamentary blocs remain split over proposed taxes to fund the increases, political sources said Friday.

“The June 9 session to elect a president is doomed to fail over lack of a quorum,” a political source told The Daily Star.

“Likewise, the June 10 session to debate and approve the wage hike bill for civil servants and [public school] teachers is uncertain given lingering differences among lawmakers over the revenues to fund the salary increases,” the source said.

A member of the parliamentary subcommittee charged with following up on the salary scale bill told The Daily Star that contacts between committee members, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and major parliamentary blocs had not yet reached an agreement over revenues to fund the wage hike that would secure a quorum for Tuesday’s session.

“The major parliamentary blocs are still split over raising the rate of value added tax [from 10 to 11 percent] as well as proposed taxes on illegal seafront properties,” he said.

In a televised speech Friday, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah urged all parliamentary blocs to attend Tuesday’s session to settle the salary scale issue in order to “do justice to civil servants and rescue the official exams.”

The Union Coordination Committee announced Wednesday plans to hold a general strike on June 9 and June 10, as well as a series of protests, reiterating its boycott of official exams starting June 12 as part of its moves to press Parliament to approve the salary scale bill. The UCC represents civil servants and public and private school teachers.

Parliament has failed in five attempts to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman after his six-year term ended on May 25, due to a lack of the two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members required to begin the session.

Lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have foiled a quorum by boycotting the sessions, in a clear bid to pressure their March 14 rivals into agreement beforehand on a consensus candidate for the presidency.

The presidential void has also paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening government work.

Lawmakers from major Christian parties, the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces and Aoun’s bloc, boycotted a May 27 Parliament session intended to discuss the controversial salary scale bill for civil servants and public teachers in protest at the failure to elect a new president. Lawmakers from the Future Movement bloc also boycotted the session in a show of solidarity with their March 14 allies.

However, MPs from the Future Movement and Aoun’s blocs said their participation in the June 10 session was still being studied.

“The Future Movement’s participation in Tuesday’s session is under discussion on the basis of legislating important issues, especially the issue is related to the salary scale bill,” Future MP Ammar Houri told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

MP Simon Abi Ramia from Aoun’s bloc said the bloc’s participation in Tuesday’s Parliament session had yet to be decided.

Christian parties and lawmakers have pledged to boycott Parliament sessions while the presidency seat was vacant, arguing that the legislature’s priority should be to elect a president. They contend that Parliament should only discuss urgent matters under a presidential void.

Under the Constitution, the Cabinet assumes full executive powers, including those of the outgoing president, until a new president is elected.

Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai accused lawmakers of violating the Constitution by failing to elect a new president. He also said the presidential vacuum amounted to a violation of the National Pact on equal power-sharing between Muslims and Christians.

“We call on the honorable lawmakers to respect the Constitution which obliges them to elect a president through two known articles that call for the election of a president two months before the expiry of [the outgoing president’s] mandate. But they violated it,” Rai told a delegation from Mount Lebanon representing Christian and Muslim sects.

He said lawmakers also violated the Constitution when they failed to elect a president after the country slipped into a presidential void.

“The National Pact ... whereby the presidency is [allotted] for Christians, Parliament for Shiites and the Cabinet for Sunnis, has been violated,” Rai said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 07, 2014, on page 2.




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