Lebanon News

Officials rush to skirt fallout from contested House session

Speaker Nabih Berri receives MPs George Adwan and Ibrahim Kanaan at his Ain Al-Tineh residence Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament website, HO)

BEIRUT: Officials will step up efforts in the next 48 hours to ensure a smooth Parliament session this week to pass urgent draft laws and avert a major political crisis that could have negative repercussions on the already divided government and national dialogue.

The flurry of activity comes as the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party teamed up Monday in warning against holding legislative sessions without their participation, saying such a move would run contrary to the National Pact’s conditions on Muslim-Christian partnership.

Speaker Nabih Berri has called for the sessions Thursday and Friday to endorse urgent draft laws, deemed essential for the state’s finances and loans, including the World Bank’s $600 million in soft loans. However, the 38 draft laws listed on the agenda excluded an electoral draft proposal, a major demand of the FPM and the LF.

Berri has vowed to go ahead with the legislative sessions, defying a possible boycott by the three Christian parties over the exclusion of an electoral draft law from the agenda.

Officials from the FPM and the LF have signaled that their MPs would not attend the sessions, mainly because an electoral draft law was not included on the agenda. The Kataeb Party has said that amid the 17-month presidential vacuum it will not attend any legislative session before the election of a president.

In the face of the FPM and LF’s opposition to the upcoming sessions, Berri, who chaired a meeting of his parliamentary bloc, reiterated Monday that the sessions would go ahead as scheduled.

A statement issued after a meeting of Berri’s parliamentary bloc called on all blocs to shoulder their responsibilities by “participating in the legislative session in view of the importance of approving draft laws listed on the agenda, particularly those related to the financial situation.”

LF lawmaker George Adwan and MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc jointly met with Berri Monday in an attempt to convince him to add an electoral draft law to the agenda.

They also relayed the two parties’ concerns over violating the National Pact’s requirements on Muslim-Christian partnership if the sessions were held in the absence of the three Christian parties.

However, Berri told Adwan and Kanaan that it was impossible to add an electoral law to the agenda, parliamentary sources in the LF and the FPM said.

Berri also told them that he was determined to convene the Parliament session if the required quorum of 65 lawmakers is secured, the sources said.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri at Ain al-Tineh, both Kanaan and Adwan warned that violation of the National Pact on partnership would threaten the Lebanese entity. They said that a Parliament session in the absence of the FPM and the LF would run contrary to the National Pact.

Kanaan said the talks with Berri focused on three priorities: the urgent financial legislation, an electoral law and a citizenship draft law.

“We consider that legislation of necessity must cover all priorities. Financial priorities are part of it, but there are also priorities related to the composition of power, that is, an electoral law,” Kanaan said.He added that respecting the National Pact’s conditions on Muslim-Christian partnership was also discussed. “We fear that the violation of the National Pact would pave the way for future violations, thus threatening all the political components, particularly the Lebanese entity.”

For his part, Adwan said the Lebanese faced two dangers: a banking and financial danger if the required draft laws were not approved by Parliament, and another danger which is probably bigger: Respecting the National Pact’s requirements on Muslim-Christian partnership and sectarian coexistence.

“The LF and the FPM will not let the financial risks threaten the country at all. All financial draft laws will be approved at the adequate time.”

“What remains is the dangerous issue of [respecting] the National Pact and national partnership. We see that there is a danger threatening this National Pact and this partnership arising from the failure to approve a new electoral law to ensure partnership and implement the Taif Accord as it should be,” Adwan said.

“A Parliament session without the LF and the FPM cannot be covered with a substitute. The FPM, the LF and the Kataeb are the ones that can secure the National Pact’s requirements,” he added.

LF chief Samir Geagea called for an electoral law to be included on the agenda of the legislative sessions. He also appealed to Berri not to renounce respecting the National Pact’s conditions on partnership and urged former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to preserve equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians.

Geagea said the LF’s participation or boycott of the legislative sessions would be coordinated with the FPM. “The problem is not about [approving] funds. Financial problems never killed a community. Other problems do kill faster than financial problems.”

In an apparent response to Berri’s comment Sunday that Christian MPs who do not belong to the three main Christian parties have popular representation, Geagea said: “Supporters of the LF, the FPM and the Kataeb alone constitute between 80 to 85 percent of the Christian public opinion.”

In his appeal to Hariri, Geagea said: “The most important legacy left by [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is when he said: We have stopped counting between Christians and Muslims. We support equality [in power sharing], moderation, partnership and the National Pact. You are the most keen [person] to preserve your father’s legacy.”

Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel said Parliament has no right to legislate in the absence of the president. He said that the president’s role in passing draft laws in Parliament was crucial. “The right path we must follow is to elect a president, form a Cabinet, approve a new electoral law, hold early parliamentary elections after which we approve essential draft laws,” Gemayel said after chairing the party’s weekly meeting.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 10, 2015, on page 1.

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