BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Thursday a Parliament meeting to pass urgent draft laws would go ahead next week despite a possible boycott by the leading Christian parties over the exclusion of an electoral law proposal from the agenda.
He warned that if the upcoming legislative session was not held, this would amount to suicide.
Berri’s strong remarks dispelled fears that a long-awaited legislative session, intended to endorse urgent draft laws, including the World Bank’s $600 million in soft loans, might be thwarted by a boycott of lawmakers from the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party.
“The legislative session will go ahead. My conscience is clear to what I have done toward the FPM and the LF,” Berri was quoted as saying by visitors at his residence.
He said that although a bill that would grant foreigners of Lebanese origin the citizenship was still held by parliamentary committees, “I have included it on the agenda contrary to rules because this bill has not yet been approved by the committees.”
Berri said he has fulfilled a demand by FPM leader MP Michel Aoun to include on the session agenda the citizenship draft law and another bill to transfer cellphone revenues to the municipalities.
“Therefore, there is no excuse for anyone not to attend the session, which must be held,” Berri said.
“If the session is not held, the country will go to a garbage dump before finding a dump for the garbage,” he added, referring to the government’s failure to find landfills to resolve the trash crisis.
Berri Wednesday called for two legislative sessions to be held next week, the first in more than a year in a bid to prevent Lebanon from losing millions of dollars in loans and grants.
The sessions, set for Nov. 12 and 13, will study and approve some 38 draft laws and proposals listed on the agenda as part of what is lawmakers dubbed “legislation of necessity” amid the 17-month presidential deadlock.
Berri’s move came a day after Parliament’s Secretariat approved an agenda that excluded an electoral law proposal, a divisive issue that could torpedo the legislative session.
An electoral law and a citizenship draft law are major demands of the FPM and the LF, which have threatened to boycott the sessions if an electoral law was not listed on the agenda.
The Kataeb Party has said that amid the presidential vacuum it will not attend any legislative session before the election of a president. Responding to calls for respecting the National Pact’s requirements on the presence of the three main Christian parties in the upcoming legislative session, Berri was quoted as saying: “The National Pact means the protection of the nation rather than destroying it. We will preserve the National Pact’s [requirements] for the sake of Lebanon as a country rather than for the sake of this or that person.”
Referring to a possible boycott of the three Christian parties of the legislative session, the speaker said: “There are Christian lawmakers in general, and Maronite lawmakers in particular, who will attend the session, which means that the National Pact’s requirements are respected. If the session is not held, this amounts to suicide for those who want life.”
Berri, who met Thursday with the Governor of Central Bank Riad Salameh and a delegation from the Banks’ Association, said the two sides briefed him on “the danger threatening international loans offered to Lebanon.” “These loans are threatened with cancellation if not approved by Parliament.”
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a member of Berri’s bloc, also said the Parliament session would go ahead after lawmakers agreed on its agenda, which covers mostly foreign loans and financial issues.
The “required number of MPs will participate in the session,” Khalil told Reuters, saying that 38 items were up for discussion. “The most important of the items which will be agreed on [include] those related to approval of agreements on World Bank loans.”
“Draft laws that aim to keep Lebanon away from financial and banking penalties” over issues such as money laundering and transborder cash movements would also be high on the agenda, Khalil added.
World Bank loans planned for Lebanon will be canceled unless approved by Parliament before the end of the year, risking more pain for an economy already hit by the political deadlock.
Lebanon is one step closer to implementing important anti-money laundering and terrorism-funding bills, which are supposed to be passed by Parliament next week, after the Budget and Finance Committee Thursday approved the drafts and making a few modifications.
Salameh visited Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam to underline the need for passing the bills, warning that Lebanon cannot afford not to.
MP Yassin Jaber, a member of Berri’s bloc, told The Daily Star that the speaker has secured more than 65 lawmakers to attend the legislative session and this is enough for a quorum. “The speaker has enough lawmakers to discuss and pass these bills, but he prefers that all the main Christian blocs take part in these sessions.” He disclosed that Berri would proceed with the session even if the Christian blocs boycott the meeting.
MP Samir Jisr from the Future Movement said his party would attend the legislative sessions.
FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan met with LF leader Samir Geagea at the latter’s residence in Maarab to discuss the legislative sessions. “We are satisfied with the response to the principle of legislation of necessity. We also support financial priorities. But along with them there are priorities that are far more important, which is a new electoral law,” Kanaan said after the meeting.
Asked whether Aoun’s parliamentary bloc would attend the legislative sessions, he replied: “My stance is clear and does not need interpretation. We have proposed principles for the legislation of necessity, which are more important than participation or nonparticipation in legislative sessions.”
Parliamentary sources in the FPM said Aoun’s bloc is expected to announce its final stance on the sessions during the bloc’s meeting next Tuesday.
MP Hagop Pakradounian said his Tashnag Party was still studying whether or not to attend the legislative sessions. “We are not negative, but we want to consult with our ally, the FPM,” he said.
MPs from Walid Jumblatt’s bloc, the Marada Movement’s bloc and independent Christian lawmakers will attend the sessions.