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Lebanon News

Failure to elect new president aims to disrupt institutions

Prime Minister Tammam Salam, center, speaks with Minister Elias Bou Saab at the Parliament in Beirut, Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

Parliament’s failure in two separate sessions this week to elect a new president and discuss the public sector’s controversial salary scale bill due to a lack of quorum serves the goal of disrupting constitutional institutions and widening the gap between the March 8 and March 14 camps and even among allies, political sources said Tuesday.

Following the vacancy in the presidency and the deliberate disruption of six Parliament sessions to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, including Tuesday’s session over the wage hike bill which failed to convene over a lack of quorum, the threat of obstruction might spread to Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s Cabinet, the sources said.

They added that the government was still searching for a formula to exercise full executive powers, including the president’s prerogatives, during the presidential vacuum.

In this context, the sources said differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties have emerged mainly over the presidential election and the salary scale bill.

With regard to the presidential election, Parliament sessions called by Speaker Nabih Berri since April 23 to elect a president have been scuttled over a lack of a two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members, the sources said.

Yet, there are no signs indicating a possible agreement soon to break the presidential stalemate as the March 14-backed candidate, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, and Aley MP Henri Helou from MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc uphold their candidacies for the presidency, while the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition’s undeclared candidate MP Michel Aoun has so far refrained from announcing his candidacy, the sources said.

Aoun, who has been holding talks through his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on the presidential election, has linked announcing his candidacy for the top Christian post to an answer from the head of the Future Movement concerning the movement’s support for the Free Patriotic Movement leader’s presidency bid.

However, Hariri’s response may not be forthcoming in the foreseeable future, the sources said.

Further complicating the presidential election issue was last week’s declaration by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, who urged the rival Lebanese factions not to bank on a resumption of Saudi-Iranian talks in order to break the deadlock.

With respect to the salary scale bill, disagreements between the March 8 and March 14 parties have led to thwarting quorum for Parliament sessions intended to discuss and approve the bill, the sources said.

In justifying their boycott of Parliament sessions, March 14 Christian lawmakers say legislation is unacceptable while the presidency remains vacant. March 14 lawmakers, including the Future bloc, who boycotted Tuesday’s session over the wage hike bill, argue that there is no balance between revenues to finance the salary increases and spending.

Other lawmakers say Parliament is constitutionally unable to legislate because it has turned since May 15 into an electoral body to pick a successor to Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.

However, the obstruction of the salary scale bill would lead to differences among the parliamentary blocs. Some politicians speak of a new strain in Berri’s ties with the parliamentary Future bloc which is headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

While Berri’s bloc is in favor of passing the wage hike bill, the Future bloc Monday rejected the bill outright, warning that its endorsement would push Lebanon into bankruptcy.

Amid the political malaise in the country, some politicians see that the disruption of the work of the legislative and executive branches of power is required in response to the presidential void with all the escalation of differences this might entail.

The escalation of political differences, coupled with ongoing protests and demonstrations by thousands of civil servants and public school teachers to press Parliament to approve the wage hike bill, might spark security incidents, thus presenting security agencies, particularly the Army, with a critical situation, the politicians said.

They added that this situation would require a political compromise between the rival factions to reach full-fledged solutions over the presidential election, a new electoral law, the salary scale bill and new rules for forming the first government of the new regime.

However, this compromise needs regional and international sponsors given the troubled relations among the Lebanese parties.

The absence of such regional and international sponsorship raises fears that all these core issues might just be postponed until autumn.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 11, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Parliament's failure in two separate sessions this week to elect a new president and discuss the public sector's controversial salary scale bill due to a lack of quorum serves the goal of disrupting constitutional institutions and widening the gap between the March 8 and March 14 camps and even among allies, political sources said Tuesday.

Following the vacancy in the presidency and the deliberate disruption of six Parliament sessions to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, including Tuesday's session over the wage hike bill which failed to convene over a lack of quorum, the threat of obstruction might spread to Prime Minister Tammam Salam's Cabinet, the sources said.

In this context, the sources said differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties have emerged mainly over the presidential election and the salary scale bill.

With regard to the presidential election, Parliament sessions called by Speaker Nabih Berri since April 23 to elect a president have been scuttled over a lack of a two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature's 128 members, the sources said.


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