By Hussein Dakroub
BEIRUT: A Parliament session scheduled for Tuesday will not be held for lack of a quorum while the formation of a new Cabinet is being obstructed because of conditions and counterconditions set by the March 8 and March 14 camps, political sources said Monday.
“I am fully sure there will be no quorum for tomorrow [Tuesday’s] Parliament session,” a member of MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc told The Daily Star.
The MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say if Aoun’s bloc would attend the session. He said 65 lawmakers, or one more than half of the 128-member legislature, are needed to secure a quorum for the session.
Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, whose bloc boycotted a Parliament session earlier this month, said he would decide Tuesday about whether to attend the session.
MP Yassin Jaber, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, also said the Parliament session would not be held Tuesday for lack of a quorum.
“No Parliament session tomorrow [Tuesday] because there has been no change in the attitudes of parliamentary blocs,” Jaber told MTV television station Monday night.
He was referring to the Future, March 14 and Aoun blocs, which boycotted a Parliament session earlier this month that was meant to have considered a proposal to extend Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi’s term, currently set to expire on Sept. 23.
Jaber said Berri had rejected a proposal by President Michel Sleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for the signing of a decree for an extraordinary Parliament session as a solution for the current row over the constitutionality of Parliament sessions under a caretaker government.
Future MP Jammal al-Jarrah said the Parliament session is destined to be postponed. “Legislation without the presence of a Cabinet is a major constitutional violation,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
A similar view was echoed by Kataeb MP Elie Marouni: “It has become clear that there will be no legislative session tomorrow.”
Mikati, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies have said they will boycott the Parliament session, arguing that such sessions under a caretaker government are unconstitutional. Berri upheld his stance, saying the Parliament sessions are constitutional.
The constitutionality of Parliament holding sessions under a resigned government has sparked a row over the prerogatives of the legislature and the Cabinet, threatening to further deepen the political and sectarian divisions in the country.
Aoun is at odds with Berri for calling a Parliament session to extend Kahwagi’s term, which the FPM leader staunchly opposes. Berri had called for three legislative sessions for early this month to study and approve 45 draft laws on Parliament’s agenda, including a proposal to extend Kahwagi’s term by raising the retirement age of top military and security officials.
However, due to a lack of quorum, Berri postponed the sessions until July 16, 17 and 18. Mikati and March 14 lawmakers argued that except for a proposal that would extend Kahwagi’s mandate, none of the laws to be debated were urgent enough to warrant legislative sessions.
Berri said in remarks published Monday that he would not change the Parliament’s agenda: “I will not delete one comma from the agenda. When Parliament meets, it will be the master of its decisions and it can decide on the agenda as it wishes.”
He said if a quorum was not secured for Tuesday’s session, he would set a new date: “I will set one date after another until the Day of Judgment.”
He downplayed a proposal for a petition by the MPs calling for an extraordinary Parliament session, saying it would not change anything.
Berri also underscored the urgency for a swift formation of a new Cabinet as the country faced the threat of “deterioration and a [power] vacuum.”
“The failure to form a Cabinet amounts to a catastrophe [in terms of] the stability of [state] institutions, the resistance and the Sunni-Shiite situation. Everyone must help in breaking the [Cabinet] deadlock,” he said.
Berri accused the March 14 coalition of obstructing the Cabinet’s formation by setting “impossible conditions” such as the demand for excluding Hezbollah from the government, adding the March 8 demand for veto power was no longer valid.
Hopes for a swift Cabinet formation faded after Aoun and Hezbollah both flatly rejected Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s formula for a three-eight Cabinet – eight members each for the centrists and the March 8 and March 14 camps.
Conditions and counterconditions set by the two main coalitions have further contributed to the political stagnation.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance has demanded each party be represented in the Cabinet in proportion to the size of its parliamentary representation, which Salam has rejected.
The March 14 coalition, in addition to demanding a nonpartisan government, has said Hezbollah should not be in the Cabinet until it withdraws from Syria.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt urged the rival factions to compromise to help facilitate the Cabinet’s formation. He implicitly slammed the demands made by March 14 and March 8.
“The need to form a new government requires dropping the theories about the size of representation and the policies of isolation,” Jumblatt said in his weekly article to the PSP’s Al-Anbaa website.
“The theory to isolate any party is futile and not achievable. Also, the theory of a blocking third [veto power] ... no longer has any meaning.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea warned against Hezbollah’s participation in the government. He said any new government in which Hezbollah was represented would end Lebanon’s neutrality toward developments in the region, particularly in Syria.
“In case Hezbollah was granted ministerial posts, the government would look like it accepts or supports the participation of a Lebanese party in the Syrian conflict,” Geagea told the paper.
“Thus, the government as a whole will become involved in this military conflict which will put Lebanon at greater risk.”
“We will be faced with a war government in confrontation with the Syrian people and most of the Arab countries and the international community.”