BEIRUT: Parliament’s secretariat is scheduled to hold a decisive meeting Thursday to debate whether to approve a controversial law that threw Parliament and Cabinet into disarray this week.
Speaker Nabih Berri has asked the secretariat to convene to formally endorse the 23 laws that were passed during a general session of Parliament Monday, but a law that made contract workers with Electricite du Liban into full-timers could derail the meeting.
Christians MPs from both the March 8 and March 14 camps have strongly opposed the law.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb party boycotted a Parliament session Tuesday in protest of the legislature’s endorsement of the law the day before. Later in the same day, Aoun’s ministers thwarted a quorum for a Cabinet session for the same reasons.
Future parliamentary bloc MP Ahmad Fatfat, a member of the secretariat, said Wednesday he was discussing the next step with his colleagues in March 14, Beirut MP Serge Torsarkissian and Batroun MP Antoine Zahra, both members of the secretariat.
Speaking to the Central News Agency, Fatfat said that Zahra had yet to decide whether or not to attend the meeting, and the Batroun MP declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Daily Star. March 14 MPs are a majority in the secretariat.
The issue has heightened tension between Berri and Aoun over the lack of intra-governmental solidarity. MPs attending Berri’s weekly meeting with lawmakers Wednesday said the speaker highlighted his friendship with Aoun, voicing confidence in his “wisdom” and political stances.
The meeting at Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh was boycotted by MPs from Aoun’s bloc.
Berri was quoted as saying that what happened in Parliament could be addressed via constitutional means, and that he was keen on preserving national unity in the country.
However, he added that anyone who believed the law might be put to a vote again was “deluded.”
Opposing MPs may challenge the law before the Constitutional Council or forward another one to Parliament. A third option would see
President Michel Sleiman refuse to sign the law.
The Kataeb and the LF are demanding more information about the exact number of employees who will become full-timers and oppose the way voting took place, while the FPM supports a draft law forwarded by the government to Parliament, which makes only a limited number of EDL employees full-timers.
MPs from the Future bloc, Amal and Hezbollah expressed their support for the law during its discussion which lasted for more than one hour. But when Berri put the law to a vote, it was unclear who was with or against it, as no tally was taken.
Following a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, Energy Minister Gebran Bassil said he had discussed with the premier the FPM’s objection to how the parties represented in the government were behaving.
“Preventing the Cabinet from presenting and defending a draft law it forwarded to Parliament is a dangerous precedent which undermines the principle of separation of powers, the Cabinet’s functions and its head,” he said.
Bassil said that “either there is a Cabinet which rules, or one with chaos erupting around it … This will determine whether or not Cabinet sessions will resume.”
According to a Baabda Palace statement, Sleiman voiced regret that Lebanon was wasting the opportunity to benefit from the period the region was going through by “bickering,” which he said serves no one’s interests but only harms the country.
For his part, LF leader Samir Geagea, speaking to a local radio station, denied that his party was addressing the controversial law in a sectarian manner, noting that MPs from the Future bloc also boycotted the parliamentary session.
“None of the attending MPs was certain that the draft law had been endorsed by a majority,” he added.
“We support making contract employees full-timers, but we are against thousands of employees becoming full-timers in the public sector for electoral purposes … Employees should become full-timers in line with the need of Electricite du Liban.”
He called for adopting electronic voting in Parliament.
In a statement after its monthly meeting, the Council of Maronite Bishops called for enhancing state supervisory bodies so they assume their role in recruiting employees based on merit, stressing the need to adhere to parity in recruitment.
Separately, Mikati left on an official visit to Germany, where he will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Also, U.S. Senator John McCain arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport Wednesday evening from Qatar and was received by U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly.