BEIRUT: A meeting of Parliament’s Secretariat that was supposed to discuss a controversial law that made electricity contract workers into full-timers was not held Thursday because of the absence of March 14 MPs.
Deputy Speaker Farid Makari from the opposition March 14 coalition met Speaker Nabih Berri at his residence in Ain al-Tineh to inform him that March 14 MPs in the Secretariat would like the meeting to be postponed to a later date.
He insisted that the MPs’ no-show did not amount to a boycott. “They just asked for a postponement of the meeting,” Makari said.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Makari, Berri said the Secretariat’s meeting had been set for Thursday on request from MPs in the Secretariat. He said he learned the news of their absence from the media. He added that Makari told him that the March 14 MPs had assumed that the meeting was devoted to ratifying the minutes of Parliament’s legislative session Monday.
“This is not the case because this matter is not within the jurisdiction of [the] Parliament’s Secretariat,” Berri said. “The [Parliament’s] bylaws are clear. If this was the purpose behind requesting the meeting, they were wrong,” he added.
Responding to mainly Christian MPs who criticized his handling of Monday’s Parliament session which approved the draft law that made contract workers with Electricite Du Liban full-time employees with the state-run company, Berri said he has fully adhered to the legislature’s bylaws and the Constitution in the past 20 years since becoming speaker.
Makari told reporters that he had informed Berri that March 14 MPs in the Parliament’s Secretariat will not attend Thursday’s meeting “because they believe that there are matters that need to be discussed carefully in order to improve Parliament’s performance.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who has slammed the Parliament’s endorsement of Electricite du Liban contract workers’ bill, weighed in on the situation.
“Following deliberations among all March 14 parties, it has been decided that our MPs will not participate in the meeting of Parliament’s Secretariat,” Geagea told a news conference at his residence in Maarab, north of Beirut. He said it was decided to send Makari to brief Berri on the situation.
Geagea said the absence of March 14 MPs from the Secretariat’s meeting was meant to express their stance on the employment of EDL contract workers. “We are waiting for a clear and frank statement from Speaker Berri in this respect,” he said. “Parliament cannot continue to function in the same selective manner as it has in the past year.”
Christian MPs from both the March 8 and March 14 camps have strongly opposed the EDL contract workers law, claiming that it will lead to the underrepresentation of Christians in the civil service sector. EDL contract workers have been on a two-month strike to demand full-time employment.
MPs from the Future bloc, Amal and Hezbollah teamed up to support the law. But when Berri put the law to a vote, it was unclear who was with or against it, as no tally was taken.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb (Phalange) party boycotted a Parliament session Tuesday in protest at the legislature’s endorsement of the law the day before. Later in the same day, Aoun’s 10 ministers thwarted a quorum for a Cabinet session for the same reasons, throwing both the government and Parliament into paralysis.
The issue has heightened tensions between Berri and Aoun, who are political allies.
MPs who oppose the law may challenge it before the Constitutional Council or propose another one and forward it to Parliament. A third option would be for President Michel Sleiman to refuse to sign the law.
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat, a member of the Secretariat, said the secretariat’s meeting was designed to ratify the minutes of the parliamentary session. “But since there was no initiative to deal with the matters under discussion [the EDL contract workers law], the March 14 MPs decided to boycott this session,” Fatfat said in a statement.
MP Alain Aoun from Aoun’s bloc said their boycott of the sessions was aimed to protest the way the draft law on the EDL contract workers was voted on. “We demand a new vote [on the law] in order to prevent any ambiguity and put an end to uncertainty. This will not undercut the role of Parliament Speaker,” Aoun said in a statement.