BEIRUT: Senior Hezbollah officials scrambled Sunday to assert that the party’s 2006 alliance with MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement would not be undermined by an unexpected row over a controversial draft law to hire electricity contract workers. Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil from Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal parliamentary bloc also sought to play down the rift with the FPM, saying the Parliament’s approval of the measure was not politically motivated.
Aoun and his MPs have criticized Hezbollah and the Amal Movement for supporting the law in Parliament.
But Aoun said Sunday his FPM was ready to cooperate with rival political parties to keep the peace in Lebanon.
“Our hands are extended to all the political parties to establish peace and stability in Lebanon. We might differ with them over many things but a political dispute should not transcend [the limits] of political dispute,” Aoun said in a speech at an FPM dinner in the Chouf mountains.
“We are suffering today from internal security problems such as the closure of streets, the suspension of an institution and the blocking of roads,” Aoun added.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem stressed his party’s alliance with the FPM.
“We are keen on an understanding or any alliance with our allies. We will work to protect them by any possible means and by the appropriate civilized methods,” Qassem said in a speech at the opening of a cultural festival in the eastern city of Hermel.
“We will not be dragged into media rhetoric or to attitudes which serve our opponents and which lead to further tension,” he added.
Qassem said any dispute among allies would be handled in “closed meetings” and in a calm manner in order to determine its causes and motives.
“Those who stand to lose from our understanding and alliance will not achieve what they want,” he added.
Hezbollah’s MP Nawar Saheli described the FPM’s rift with Hezbollah and Amal over the law that made contract workers with Electricite du Liban full-time employees as “a passing summer cloud.”
“The understanding between Hezbollah and the FPM is a strategic rather than tactical understanding,” Saheli told a rally in the eastern town of Ablah.
“Anyone who is betting on differences among this somewhat complex [parliamentary] majority is [as much] a loser as he was in his previous wagers,” he added.
Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, said March 14 parties were betting on a split among March 8 allies in order to return to power, but they would fail in their wager.
“They [March 14 parties] are betting that a dispute among allies inside the government would give them a chance to topple it and return to power,” Qaouk said during a ceremony in the southern town of Nabatieh.
“This is an illusion and a betting on a mirage, because the solid alliance between Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement is stronger than the details of internal politics,” he said.
He added that the March 14 parties would reap “only disappointment.”
For his part, Khalil, the health minister, played down the row with the FPM over the law.
Referring to Parliament’s approval of the law, Khalil said at a dinner in the southern village of Majdal Slim: “Probably, some had thought that the consequences of what happened in the past few days might lead to new political alliances in the country that would re-draw a map for the parties ahead of the next parliamentary elections.
“Frankly speaking, we say that what happened in the past few days was the outcome of different viewpoints that do not emanate from political motives ... or a settlement of political scores with anyone,” Khalil said.
Political sources told The Daily Star attempts were under way to patch up the breach involving the FPM, Hezbollah and Amal.
Aoun’s MPs and other Christian lawmakers 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.
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.
Energy Minister Gebran Bassil from the FPM has argued that Parliament failed to consider the Cabinet’s own draft law during a legislative session in which an alternative proposal was passed into law, describing the situation as setting a dangerous precedent.
MPs from Aoun’s bloc, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb [Phalange] party boycotted a Parliament session last week in protest against the legislature’s endorsement of the law the day before.
Also, Aoun’s 10 ministers thwarted a quorum for a Cabinet session last week for the same reasons, throwing both the government and Parliament into disarray.