Lebanon News

Speaker calls for Parliament session next week

BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri called Monday for a Parliament session on June 8 to study bills and draft proposals to be approved by the Parliament’s Secretariat with no signs of any solution to end the power vacuum, now in its fifth month.

Berri’s call came amid a widening row between the March 8 and March 14 camps over the legality of convening Parliament to address vital issues in the absence of a functioning government.

Lebanon has been under a caretaker government since the collapse of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet on Jan. 12 following the resignation of Hezbollah ministers and their March 8 allies in a long-simmering dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s efforts to form a new Cabinet have stumbled over the distribution of shares within the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, including the shares of Mikati and President Michel Sleiman.

Caretaker Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said the Constitution allows Parliament to meet and pass laws under a caretaker government. Lawmakers from the March 14 coalition, particularly MPs from Hariri’s Future bloc, argued that Berri’s request to convene Parliament was unconstitutional and meant the speaker was abusing Hariri’s prerogatives.

Berri said last week that he was determined to call for a Parliament session to discuss, among other things, prison conditions as well as renewing the mandate of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.

Commenting on Berri’s call to convene Parliament, Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel warned Monday against mixing the prerogatives of the legislature with those of the Cabinet.

He also reiterated his call for the formation of “a national salvation government” as soon as possible. “We call for a government that brings most leaders together in order to pull this country out of its crisis,” Gemayel said.

Meanwhile, sources close to Mikati did not rule the possibility that he was close to announcing a government taking into account the maximum demands of the parties.

Mikati, feeling the pinch of the delay in forming a new government, warned last week that the formation process was not open-ended, hinting that he could make a decision on a Cabinet lineup soon come what may.

Mikati’s remarks came as consultations between him and the March 8 parties are in limbo, amid deepening differences between Mikati and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun over the distribution of portfolios in a draft 30-member Cabinet lineup.

Mikati was appointed on Jan. 25 by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance to form a new government to replace Hariri’s toppled Cabinet.

Businessmen, members of Hariri’s caretaker Cabinet and March 14 politicians have sounded the alarm bell about the deteriorating economic conditions in the country, urging a swift formation of a new government to cope with domestic and regional challenges.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice president of the Higher Shiite Islamic Council, renewed his call for “a national salvation government,” warning that Lebanon stood at “a dangerous crossroads.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 31, 2011, on page 2.

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