Lebanon News

Government compromise likely ahead of key session

Prime Minister Tammam Salam, right, speaks with Minister Ali Hasan Khalil during a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A compromise to break the Cabinet deadlock appeared likely ahead of a government meeting Thursday that will look into securing salaries for public sector employees and logistical support for the Army, sources said.

Under the plan proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri, around 70 decrees which the Cabinet recently passed without the signature of the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies will be presented to ministers from the group.

Speaking to The Daily Star Wednesday, a source close to Berri said the deal stipulated that the signatures of all of the government’s 24 ministers would be necessary to pass the decrees, which under normal circumstances would require a president’s signature to pass.

As for decrees that typically require signatures from a simple majority or two-thirds of ministers, they will pass even if the six ministers of the FPM and their allies refuse to sign them.

The decrees will not be published in the Official Gazette Thursday to give the deal a chance.

The source said the plan, which includes other details, has so far won the backing of all Cabinet parties. He expects ministers of the FPM and its allies to attend Thursday’s session.

Ministers affiliated with Hezbollah, the FPM and Tashnag Party withdrew from a special Cabinet session Tuesday after expressing opposition to the approval of decrees that did not bear their signatures.

They argued that the move breached laws and violated the agreement reached among Cabinet members and its prime minister about how to exercise executive powers without a president which requires the signature of all the 24 ministers on any decree to become effective.

A source close to Salam was also optimistic.

“The proposal seems to be acceptable. FPM and Hezbollah ministers will be presented with these decrees to sign all or some of them,” he said.

Thursday’s Cabinet session has crucial items on its agenda, including salaries for public sector employees, food supplies for the Army and grants.

Former Minister Salim Jreissati, from Aoun’s bloc, voiced his backing for the proposed compromise after meeting Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk.

“I explained to the minister that these decrees should at least be presented to the ministers who have not received them so that they become constitutional when all ministers sign them,” Jreissati said.

In separate remarks to the Central News Agency, Jreissati said that FPM ministers would “in principle” attend Thursday’s session.

But other sources said that the Future Movement still opposed Berri’s initiative, adding that contacts would intensify at night to resolve the remaining obstacles facing the deal.

Hezbollah’s Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish said that his group was awaiting the outcome of the talks to decide on whether to attend the Cabinet session.

“As for the decrees, I think there is no problem with those that were on the Cabinet’s agenda before we and the FPM began demanding that the government’s decision-making system be discussed before moving to any other agenda item,” Fneish told The Daily Star.

The positive atmosphere regarding efforts to break the Cabinet crisis Wednesday prompted Aoun to postpone a news conference in which he was expected to announce escalatory measures against the government, including a resumption of street protests. The news conference was rescheduled for Friday.

But the FPM’s OTV television station said in its evening news broadcast that Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc had urged its supporters, particularly municipalities, to join an anti-government protest called for by the “You Stink” campaign Saturday, and was preparing for its own protests next week.

Ministerial sources said it was possible that the Cabinet would still convene in the absence of the six ministers if no agreement was reached and allocate funds to pay salaries of public sector employees and provide the Army with food supplies.

Elsewhere in Lebanon, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag reiterated after meeting Berri her calls for ending the presidential vacuum and emphasized the need to have a productive government.

“The timing of our discussion today was to review the critical situation of the country and the urgency of effective inclusive decision-making by the government,” Kaag said. “We also reiterated the call by the international community concerning the urgency to address the presidential vacuum and to ensure that the institutions of state are protected.”

“We care about the stability and security of the country at a very volatile time and therefore it is very important that the state is active, provides services, and that there is a way forward. The international community is of course always firmly behind Lebanon to achieve that goal.”

Kaag also met Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former President Amine Gemayel and Ammar Moussawi, Hezbollah’s official in charge of international relations.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham voiced hope that an appropriate mechanism would be reached to enhance national consensus and resolve Lebanon’s political crisis.

Addressing a news conference in Tehran, Afkham said that electing a president was an internal Lebanese affair, calling on the Lebanese to engage in dialogue to preserve the country’s security, peace and unity.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 27, 2015, on page 1.

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