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Salam: Breakthrough on governing mechanism

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah receives Salam in Kuwait. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Sunday a breakthrough had been made in the mechanism governing government work, a move that sets the stage for a Cabinet session this week. “The thorny issue of the mechanism governing the Cabinet’s work has been resolved,” Salam told reporters on the plane that flew him to Kuwait for a one-day official visit.

Separately, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris Thursday, the Saudi daily Al-Hayat reported Sunday. The planned meeting comes a few days after Hariri had met at his residence in Paris with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, with whom he discussed the presidential election stalemate.

Salam stressed the importance of consensus among the 24 ministers on Cabinet decisions, refusing to give details of the governing mechanism that had threatened to paralyze government work.

“The problem arises when we make decisions outside the framework of consensus while putting aside every divisive matter. I am committed to this matter [consensus],” he said.

“Consultations are an essential part of our work in this difficult period because our goal is to shoulder responsibility in the best way in order to limit all divisive issues,” he added.

Later, speaking at a news conference in Kuwait after holding talks with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah and Parliament Speaker Marzouk Ali Ghanem, Salam said Cabinet would meet this week following a breakthrough in the governing mechanism.

Salam, accompanied by a ministerial delegation, arrived in Kuwait Sunday morning. In addition to bilateral relations, the talks focused on addressing a number of issues, particularly the influx of more than a million Syrian refugees into Lebanon.

Salam told reporters that the purpose of his visit to Kuwait was to “thank our Kuwaiti brothers for their moral and financial support for Lebanon.”

He said he would brief Kuwaiti officials about the situation in Lebanon, mainly regarding the Syrian refugee crisis. “Lebanon has unconditionally welcomed refugees from Syria,” he said. “But today there is a need to support the Lebanese and the Syrians to bear this burden.”

The Cabinet did not meet last week apparently due to a row over a mechanism to exercise its full executive powers, including the president’s prerogatives, during the vacuum in the presidency. Lebanon plunged into a presidential vacuum following Parliament’s failure to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended May 25.

Since May 25, the Cabinet has failed in three sessions to agree on a mechanism to govern during the presidential void.

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.

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 needed the signatures of all 24 members, only two-thirds or half of them.

Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas told MTV an agreement over the governing mechanism had been reached under which some ministers would be authorized to sign Cabinet decrees on behalf of the president.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said in remarks published by Al-Mustaqbal newspaper Sunday that he expected this week to be “a week of a political breakthrough to be translated into a consensus on a government mechanism because everyone is aware of the dangers of the current stage.”

Sources close to Salam said the premier would call the Cabinet to meet at the Grand Serail Thursday.

Salam said the presidential void has caused “political suffering” in the country, adding that efforts should be stepped up to swiftly elect a new president.

“There is a political struggle [over the presidency] which we hope will lead to the election of a president,” he said at the news conference in Kuwait.

The lawmakers’ failure to elect a president 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 last week to elect a new president and discuss the public sector’s salary scale bill due to a lack of quorum, Speaker Nabih Berri has warned that the disruption of Parliament sessions on the pretext of the presidential void would lead to the disruption of Cabinet sessions.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah indirectly blamed the March 14 coalition for obstructing the presidential election with their refusal to elect Aoun, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, for the country’s top Christian post.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah slammed March 14 lawmakers for boycotting Parliament sessions on the pretext of the presidential vacuum.

“During the [presidential] vacuum, the mother institution, Parliament, should not be disrupted at all because this would lead to obstructing the people’s interests and to social unrest,” Fadlallah told a memorial ceremony in south Lebanon.

“The ones responsible for this [presidential] vacuum are those who refuse to elect the one who, by virtue of his political, popular and parliamentary support, deserves to be president,” he said, in a clear reference to Aoun, Hezbollah’s key Christian ally.

Although Aoun has not yet announced his candidacy for the president, he is considered as the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition’s undeclared candidate.

For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for Christian-Muslim collaboration for the building of a pluralistic society and a culture of moderation in Lebanon.

“We acknowledge the role assigned to us as Christians, [which is] to continue, with our Muslim brothers, the construction a culture of moderation, acceptance of the different others, freedom of religion and belief and pluralism in the age of globalization,” Rai said during his Sunday Mass in Bkirki.

Rai prayed for the protection of the “Lebanese society” from “the evil of those who mess with its security and institutions and from the phenomenon of violence and car bombs.”

The patriarch talked about two extreme doctrines endangering pluralistic societies around the world, including Lebanon.

From one side, there are “religious [political] systems that seek to eliminate the others and to impose their faith, traditions and laws on them,” he said.

On the other hand, Rai added, “there are the secular atheist systems that dismiss God from the life of the society and state, legitimizing whatever they want, regardless of God’s natural law.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2014, on page 3.

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