Lebanon News

Berri postpones Parliament session amid mounting backlash

Berri speaks in Beirut, Nov. 11, 2019. (The Daily Star/Hasan Ibrahim, HO)

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri announced Monday afternoon that the legislative session in Parliament, planned for Tuesday, has been postponed to Nov. 19 for security reasons.

Berri’s announcement follows growing opposition to the session taking place, with critics asserting that it is unconstitutional and fails to respond to the demands of protesters.

The session had been scheduled by Berri, so that lawmakers could vote on draft laws related to corruption, a general amnesty and pensions. Another parliamentary session to elect committee members had also been scheduled to take place Tuesday.

MP Alain Aoun, part of the parliamentary leadership, confirmed to The Daily Star that both sessions have been postponed.

Berri denied that opposition to the legislative session had anything to do with the draft amnesty law or any other proposed law, claiming that the purpose of the “campaign” against it was to “maintain the current political vacuum.” He called for the formation of a government including protesters and said that the same agenda would be used when lawmakers meet on Nov. 19.

The session’s agenda drew widespread criticism, after it was leaked on social media. Suspicious of the items tabled for discussion, activists and protesters called for a general strike. They also circulated images online suggesting that roads leading to Parliament be blocked and that MPs be held in session until they respond to the demands of protesters.

Hours before Berri’s announcement, Sidon MP Osama Saad added to pressure for the legislative session's cancellation, declaring that he would not attend.

“The [session's] agenda is incompatible with what is currently happening in this country and the delicate circumstances. Therefore, I announce my boycotting of the parliamentary session tomorrow,” he said in a televised press conference.

Saad added that the authorities had lost the trust of protesters, and called for the creation of a “transitional government that represents the uprising and protects its program of recovery and change.”

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian had similarly announced Sunday her intention to boycott the legislative session. Speaking in a pre-recorded video, the MP branded the amnesty law a "trap" that would divide the street, and emphasized the need for an independent judiciary.

According to the NGO Legal Agenda, Tuesday’s planned parliamentary session failed in several ways to respond to the primary demands of protesters.

For instance, its agenda included no discussion of measures needed to address the financial and economic crisis, such as the introduction of capital controls.

It included no mention of draft laws that would guarantee the independence of the judiciary, instead proposing the creation of an exceptional, non-independent court.

It also contained no item for the discussion of the reform of government oversight bodies, such as the Central Inspection Bureau, or the Tenders Department.

A number of prominent figures said the call for the legislative session was unconstitutional.

Maroun Khreish, head of the National Commission for Veterans, called upon lawmakers not to attend, citing the session's lack of legal basis and branding the agenda “suspicious” in a statement carried Monday by the state-run National News Agency.

Legal Agenda’s founder, Nizar Saghieh, also said that the session would be unconstitutional, explaining on Twitter that lawmakers must first study and pass the 2019 budget before proceeding with new legislation.

The inclusion of the draft amnesty law on the agenda courted the most controversy. Protesters and experts say it will allow politicians to exempt themselves from a large number of crimes they are alleged to have committed.

Speaking at a news conference Monday morning, a spokesperson for Legal Agenda said that the creation of an independent judiciary should be a prerequisite of issuing a general amnesty law. “There must be reforms that accompany the amnesty,” he said. “We don’t see any such reform.”

Development and Liberation bloc MP Yassine Jaber, who added the amnesty law to the legislative session’s agenda, distanced himself from it Monday in a statement released by his press office. He said that the law had been prepared by a committee formed by Cabinet under Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s leadership. Following the government’s resignation, the Cabinet Secretariat sent the draft amnesty law to Parliament, hoping that it might be adopted from their end. Jaber clarified to The Daily Star than he and MP Mikhael Moussa added it to the legislative session’s agenda as a “favor,” even though neither MP had any involvement in its drafting.

Jaber also downplayed fears that the bill would pardon politicians for any wrongdoing they may have committed.

“In my reading of the amnesty law, it has no relation to financial crimes and does not pardon anyone with past or future financial charges,” he said. “At the end of the day, those responsible for defending it are the ministers on the ministerial committee that formulated it. I am not attached to this law.”

 

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