Beirut: The fate of a Parliament session this week to extend the Army commander’s term hinged largely on whether MP Michel Aoun’s bloc would attend to secure a quorum, while the rift over the constitutionality of such sessions with a resigned government persisted with no solution in sight.
Hopes for a swift Cabinet formation were dashed after Aoun and Hezbollah flatly rejected Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s proposal for a three-eight Cabinet, eight members each for the March 8 and March 14 camps and centrists.
“The Parliament session is still scheduled for Tuesday. If no quorum is secured, the session will be postponed,” a source close to Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily Star.
The source, however, said that if the 27 MPs from Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc and his allies showed up, this would be sufficient to secure a quorum for the session to be held.
Beirut MP Ammar Houri said his parliamentary Future bloc and its March 14 allies stood firm on boycotting the Parliament sessions under a caretaker government.
“The Future bloc and March 14 MPs will not attend Tuesday’s Parliament session,” Houri told The Daily Star.
As a solution for the row over the constitutionality of Parliament sessions under a resigned government, he proposed that a decree be signed by President Michel Sleiman and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for an extraordinary Parliament session with specified and essential items on its agenda.
Houri said the Future bloc linked the extension of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi’s mandate to the extension of retired police chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi’s term.
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said his bloc would boycott the Parliament session “as long as there is nothing new on its agenda.”
“Under a caretaker government, Parliament can only legislate on extraordinary and essential issues,” Zahra told The Daily Star.
Berri had called for three consecutive legislative sessions for early this month to study and approve some 45 draft laws listed on Parliament’s agenda, including a proposal to extend Kahwagi’s term, which expires on Sept. 23, by raising the retirement age of top military and security officials.
Due to a lack of quorum, Berri postponed the Parliament sessions until July 16, 17 and 18. The July 1 session was boycotted by Mikati, Aoun and March 14 lawmakers.
Mikati and March 14 lawmakers argued that except for a proposal that would extend Kahwagi’s mandate, none of the 45 draft laws put on Parliament’s agenda were urgent enough to warrant legislative sessions. Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, said he would decide Tuesday about whether to attend the Parliament session.
“We have not taken a decision [on the Parliament session]. We have not yet met with the MPs. We will meet Tuesday,” Aoun told Hezbollah’s Al-Nour radio station in an interview.
Meanwhile, Berri denied reports that he would stop government negotiations with Salam, saying his proposal to help break the three-month-long Cabinet deadlock still stands.
“Berri’s proposal aimed at facilitating the Cabinet formation process still stands, so does his support for the prime minister-designate’s suggestion to rotate ministerial portfolios,” Berri’s office said in a statement.
“Everything else is inaccurate.”
An-Nahar newspaper reported Sunday that Hezbollah asked Berri to backtrack on a proposal that would have the speaker and the party provide Salam with a list of Shiite candidates for ministerial posts.
Berri last week announced the collapse of the March 8 coalition, ending his Amal Movement’s alliance with the FPM, and allowing Berri and Hezbollah to negotiate with Salam separately over the Shiite share in the new Cabinet.
A source close to Salam said the premier-designate upheld his proposal for a three-eight Cabinet, while opposing veto power to any party and supporting the principle of rotation of key ministries among all the parties.
“Salam will continue his efforts to form a new Cabinet to the last minute. He will not step down for now,” the source told The Daily Star.
In the interview with Al-Nour radio station, Aoun ruled out an early formation of a new Cabinet, while rejecting as “impossible” Salam’s proposals.
“The fact that the prime minister is insisting on conditions, I don’t want to comment on the Cabinet subject but I see them as impossible,” he said.
Aoun rejected a Cabinet in which Hezbollah was not represented. “If Hezbollah is not part of the government, we won’t either,” he said, adding that contacts with Salam had not been fruitful.
“I am convinced that there won’t be a government any time soon and it is possible that the formation process will take months.”
“We [would] welcome a rapprochement with [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri and anybody else in the interest of Lebanese,” Aoun added.
In addition to demanding a nonpartisan government, the March 14 coalition has also rejected Hezbollah’s participation in the Cabinet before it withdraws its fighters from Syria.
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah accused the Future Movement and the March 14 coalition of obstructing the Cabinet formation by setting conditions, he said.
“While the Future Movement insists that Hezbollah not be represented in the government, we insist on our stance that they are not in a position to impose conditions and they cannot dictate on the Lebanese as to who should or should not participate,” Fadlallah said during an iftar banquet.
Speaking at another iftar dinner in south Lebanon, Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said he did not expect a new Cabinet to be formed soon “because it seems that the other [March 14] side does not want the government to be formed.”
“Or else what does this repetition by lawmakers and officials in the Future Movement mean when they demand that Hezbollah not be represented in the next government?” he asked.
MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in Parliament, said no one could stop his party from participating in the government.
“It is our right to join a national Cabinet to assume its responsibilities toward the Lebanese. It is our right to participate in any government in proportion to the size of our people,” Raad told a group gathered for an iftar meal in south Lebanon.