Lebanon News

Parliament paralysis casts shadow on Cabinet’s work

File - Prime Minister Tammam Salam, center, heads a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Friday, May 16, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The disruption of Parliament sessions on the pretext of the presidential void seems to be threatening government work as the Cabinet failed for the third time Thursday to agree on a mechanism to exercise its powers amid the vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam said the Cabinet needed more time to finalize discussions on a mechanism to govern its work during the presidential vacuum, according to Information Minister Ramzi Joreige. Salam spoke during the Cabinet session he chaired at the Grand Serail.

“The Cabinet could have discussed the agenda but Prime Minister Salam was keen on ensuring consensus and strengthening the Cabinet’s position,” Joreige told reporters following the four-hour meeting.

“Therefore, he will hold further consultations [with rival groups] on the rules that should be adopted to govern the Cabinet’s work with a view to reaching a comprehensive consensus on this subject,” he said.

Ministers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc and Hezbollah’s bloc refuse to discuss any of the 25 items on the Cabinet agenda before an agreement is reached on a mechanism to govern its work.

Asked whether the Cabinet would adopt an approach rather than a mechanism to govern its work amid the presidential void, Joreige said: “The work of the Cabinet as an [executive] body is subject to rules and not to a mechanism ... These rules provided for in the Constitution require that Cabinet decisions be taken by consensus.”

If consensus on divisive issues was not secured, Joreige said, then the Cabinet would resort to a majority voting on normal topics and a two-thirds majority on specific topics.

“We cannot invent a mechanism, but we can come up with an approach calling for consensus to prevail over voting,” he added.

Thursday’s was the Cabinet’s third abortive attempt to agree on a mechanism to exercise full executive powers, including the president’s prerogatives, since Lebanon plunged into a presidential vacuum following Parliament’s failure to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.

While Salam had agreed to send the Cabinet agenda to the ministers 72 hours before scheduled sessions, the ministers remained at odds over whether Cabinet decrees need the signatures of all 24 members, or only two-thirds or half of them.Ministers from Aoun’s bloc, backed by Hezbollah’s ministers, demand that the Cabinet decrees be signed by all the ministers, while ministers from the March 14 coalition and the Future Movement insist that the decisions should be passed by a two-thirds vote. Salam prefers consensus on Cabinet decisions.

The lawmakers’ failure to pick a successor to Sleiman has raised fears of a prolonged vacuum in the presidency, an issue that has already paralyzed Parliament legislation and is casting its shadow on government work.

Following Parliament’s failure in two separate sessions this week to elect a new president and discuss the public sector’s salary scale bill due to a lack of quorum, Speaker Nabih Berri warned that the disruption of Parliament sessions on the pretext of the presidential void would lead to the disruption of Cabinet sessions, thus bringing all constitutional institutions to paralysis.

Joreige said the Cabinet discussed the security situation in Lebanon as well as the official school exams, set to begin Friday, and the deal reached between Education Minister Elias Bou Saab and the Union Coordination Committee on holding the tests, in addition to the 2014 draft state budget.

He added that the Cabinet also discussed “important regional developments” and their possible impact on the security situation in Lebanon. He was referring to Wednesday’s capture by Al-Qaeda-inspired militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, one day after seizing Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi said the Cabinet would summon military and security chiefs at its next session to discuss the possible repercussions of the fast-moving developments in Iraq on the security situation in Lebanon.

“We must follow up what is happening in the region in an accurate, sensitive and responsible manner in order to preserve our unity, coexistence, stability and the safety of our children and country,” Rifi said to NBN TV.

Rifi said in emergency cases, the Higher Defense Council was summoned by the president to meet to deal with the situation.

“But today, in the absence of a president who is the chairman of the Higher Defense Council, we will [replicate] this council’s role ... The Cabinet will be summoned to meet in the presence of security and officials to cope with developments,” he added.

Rifi stressed that the developments in Iraq were not minor. “It is a major development that should be followed up in order to shield our country and protect ourselves,” he said. He added that the security situation in Lebanon was “reassuring but we need to be more careful and vigilant.”

Shortly before the Cabinet session ended, Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi said the Cabinet would likely postpone discussions on a proposal by Salam to end the row over government powers.

“The Cabinet tends to postpone mulling ways of how the Cabinet should deal with the question over the government’s exercise of powers,” Azzi told reporters after leaving the session.

Salam was proposing that decrees would require a two-thirds majority of ministers to pass, but all Cabinet members would be required to sign approved decrees, even ones they did not support.

Meanwhile, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel rejected proposals to postpone the presidential election until after the parliamentary polls scheduled for November, saying such a move was far too dangerous.

During a meeting with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumby, Gemayel “rejected the alternative to delay the presidential election until after the parliamentary one.”

“Such talk is dangerous and suspicious,” he said. Gemayel was apparently responding to Aoun, who had said he would support postponing the presidential vote until after the parliamentary election.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2014, on page 1.




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