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Lebanon News

Cabinet session unlikely as disputes persist

  • 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 Cabinet is unlikely to meet this week amid lingering differences among ministers over a mechanism to govern during the vacancy in the presidency, sources close to Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Monday.

And Parliament won’t be able to meet this week due to a lack of quorum to elect a president and decide on the public sector’s wage hike bill.

“Salam will not call for a Cabinet session soon. Such a call might take place next week, especially if any emergency matters occurred that need to be studied,” a source close to Salam told The Daily Star.

The source cited the absence of Deputy premier Samir Moqbel and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil due to their attendance of International Support Group for Lebanon conference in Rome as another reason for skipping this week’s Cabinet session.

However, Salam was quoted by An-Nahar newspaper as saying that he was determined to energize government work and would thus call for a Cabinet session this week.

Referring to the rift among ministers over how to govern while the presidency seat remains unoccupied, the source said Salam was still trying to obtain consensus on divisive issues, “especially with respect to the ministers’ signing of decrees and decisions taken by the Cabinet.”

“Salam will not resort to the voting option inside the Cabinet because he is keen on creating a climate of solidarity inside the Cabinet, especially since discussions among ministers are being held in a positive atmosphere, and all ministers are fully cooperating with the prime minister,” the source said.

The Cabinet last week failed for the third time to agree on a mechanism to exercise its full executive powers, including the president’s prerogatives, amid the vacuum in the country’s top Christian post.

The ministers remain at odds over whether Cabinet decrees need the signatures of all 24 members.

Ministers from MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, backed by Hezbollah’s ministers, demand that Cabinet decrees be signed by all ministers, while those from the March 14 coalition and the Future Movement insist that the decisions should be passed by a two-thirds vote.

According to the source, there are three approaches inside the Cabinet over the issue of signing decrees. One side, like Salam, supports consensus on decisions and decrees, another prefers a majority of half the ministers plus one, and a third group (Hezbollah and its allies) demands that decrees be signed by all 24 ministers.The Cabinet’s mechanism for addressing its work was discussed during a meeting between Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.

Machnouk, who belongs to the Future Movement, said his group and the FPM were in agreement about the Cabinet’s work mechanism during the presidential void.

“We agreed that there is no dispute over the approach to the Cabinet’s work and the prime ministers’ powers,” the minister told reporters after meeting Aoun at the latter’s residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

He said the talks centered on a mechanism to carry out the president’s mandate during the vacuum.

Machnouk rejected the idea that the Cabinet’s work was crippled.

“There is insistence from our side and an understanding with Gen. Aoun that constitutional institutions must continue their work,” he said.

The minister said he did not carry any message from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to Aoun. He added that dialogue between the Future Movement and the FPM was ongoing.

Calling for the election of a consensus president, Machnouk acknowledged that regional powers had “a key role” to play in this election.

Meanwhile, MP Walid Jumblatt is expected to fly to Paris this week for talks with Hariri on the presidential deadlock, a source in the Progressive Socialist Party told The Daily Star. Jumblatt will be accompanied by Health Minister Wael Abu Faour, who recently met Hariri in Morocco to prepare for talks between the heads of the Future Movement and the PSP.

Parliament will not be able to meet Wednesday due to a lack of quorum to elect a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, political sources said. It will be Parliament’s seventh failed attempt to elect a president since April 23.

Similarly, another Parliament session set for Thursday to discuss and approve the salary scale bill appeared to be precarious as parliamentary blocs remained at odds over revenues to fund the salary increases estimated at $1.6 billion annually.

Separately, Salam is scheduled to visit Kuwait later this month as part of the government’s efforts to encourage Gulf citizens to visit Lebanon.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 17, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

The Cabinet is unlikely to meet this week amid lingering differences among ministers over a mechanism to govern during the vacancy in the presidency, sources close to Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Monday.

However, Salam was quoted by An-Nahar newspaper as saying that he was determined to energize government work and would thus call for a Cabinet session this week.

Ministers from MP Michel Aoun's parliamentary bloc, backed by Hezbollah's ministers, demand that Cabinet decrees be signed by all ministers, while those from the March 14 coalition and the Future Movement insist that the decisions should be passed by a two-thirds vote.

Cabinet's mechanism for addressing its work was discussed during a meeting between Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement.

Machnouk, who belongs to the Future Movement, said his group and the FPM were in agreement about the Cabinet's work mechanism during the presidential void.

Machnouk rejected the idea that the Cabinet's work was crippled.


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