BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati Friday called the Cabinet to meet at Baabda Palace Monday in a new test of government solidarity after Parliament’s endorsement of a controversial draft law that made electricity workers full-timers threw the government and the legislature into disarray.
In the meantime, efforts were under way to heal the rift within the March 8 coalition caused by the law that made contract workers with Electricite du Liban full-time employees, political sources said. The rift involves MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement on one side, and Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on the other.
“There is no tension [with Aoun’s FPM] despite some [critical] attitudes. What happened in Parliament will not affect relations and the political alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM,” Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish told The Daily Star.
He said Parliament’s endorsement of the EDL contract workers’ bill last Monday was a spur-of-the-moment issue that would not damage Hezbollah’s ties with the FPM.
Asked whether Hezbollah has been in contact with the FPM to repair the damage caused by the law, Fneish said: “Relations are normal and contacts are continuing between the two sides.”
Mikati said attempts were ongoing to end the dispute among political blocs in Parliament that led to the suspension of the Cabinet and parliamentary sessions.
“We hope to see results very soon,” he told reporters accompanying him on his visit to Germany. Mikati said his meeting with Energy Minister Gebran Bassil Wednesday before he flew to Germany aimed to explore “possible solutions for the current dispute.”
The Daily Star was unable to reach ministers and MPs from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc for comment on whether they would attend Monday’s Cabinet meeting.
The Central News Agency quoted ministerial sources in Aoun’s bloc as saying that the group’s ministers would attend the Cabinet session.
Bassil, one of 10 ministers of Aoun’s bloc, said after meeting Mikati Wednesday that their boycott of the Cabinet sessions was not open-ended.
“There is an abnormal situation which cannot be accepted. It is not a matter linked to re-attending the Cabinet sessions. There are no conditions or threats. But we cannot accept the destruction of public institutions as it has happened,” Bassil said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Friday night.
Asked to comment on the dispute with March 8 allies over the EDL contract workers law, Bassil said: “There is a pattern of work which we cannot accept from either a friend or a political foe. There are laws, a Constitution and the idea of establishing institutions. These matters are stronger than any political understanding.”
He stressed that the resignation of the 10 ministers of Aoun’s bloc was now out of the question.
Christian MPs from both the March 8 and March 14 camps have strongly opposed the EDL contract workers law, claiming that it would lead to the underrepresentation of Christians in the public sector.
MPs from the Future bloc, Amal and Hezbollah teamed up to support the law. However, when Speaker Nabih Berri put the law to a vote, it was unclear who was with or against it, as no tally was taken.
MPs from Aoun’s bloc, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb [Phalange] party boycotted a Parliament session Tuesday in protest against the legislature’s endorsement of the law a day earlier. Also Tuesday, Aoun’s 10 ministers thwarted a quorum for a Cabinet session for the same reasons, throwing both the government and Parliament into paralysis. Another Cabinet session scheduled for last Wednesday to discuss the draft 2012 state budget was also canceled.