Political sources described the parliamentary session Speaker Nabih Berri will hold Thursday and Friday as the biggest “political festival” since the election of President Michel Aoun and the formation of the Cabinet under Saad Hariri.
Envisioned as a “general discussion,” the session will be broadcast live.
A political source spoke to The Daily Star at length about their expectations for the session. The source expected MPs to drill the Cabinet over its failure to pass a new electoral law onto Parliament. Never mind that the Cabinet is only a few months old and lawmakers have failed to agree on a new electoral law since at least 2009.
The source worried that the so-called general discussion that Parliament is holding in the absence of any consensus on an electoral law is the harbinger of yet another extension of Parliament’s term, regardless of the time frame and the stated reasons.
Yet a ministerial source told The Daily Star that the Cabinet is on the verge of agreeing on a new electoral law, which it plans to send to Parliament before April 15 – well within the constitutional time frame.
The source added that once the Cabinet’s decree is sent to Parliament, Parliament’s term will be extended on a technical basis within the same electoral cycle. Lawmakers will then still be within their constitutional authority and will be able to discuss and amend the bill for up to three months from May 31. The minister maintained that this remains the most realistic solution if the political powers, including the president and prime minister, are serious about not dragging Lebanon into the constitutional and political crisis that has been looming.
If the decree were to be sent to Parliament, officials would need to maintain consensus on the nature of the open discussion so that it does not transform into a political spectacle, the reverberations of which would be difficult to contain, especially as there remain a host of contentious issues that could easily unhinge the session and send it into chaos.
The issues are yet to be addressed, and the general mood is yet to be set, which makes this week’s sessions all the more important. What will happen if MPs bring up a letter that was sent by five former leaders to the Arab Summit? What would the discussions of this item look like?
The letter caused a national uproar and its authors were accused of attempting to tarnish Aoun’s presidency.
What about Hezbollah’s “Abbas Battalion”? Last week images circulated of the squad conducting patrols in Beirut’s southern suburbs under the pretext of clamping down on drugs.
How will MPs react? Will they be satisfied with Hezbollah’s statements that the unit was acting of its own accord and had not coordinated with central command? Or will MPs fire question after question at Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk?
The source also looked toward the Cabinet’s response to MPs’ questions following allegations that the decision pertaining to reforming the electricity sector had been forged and erroneously reported in the official gazette.
The Cabinet will also need to answer to the speaker and Parliament over its failure to set out an electoral law, especially as forming the law is the Cabinet’s main prerogative, and especially after the speaker’s warnings that Lebanon is heading toward a “coup-like movement.”
Another issue is the overlap between the prerogatives of Aoun’s new aide, former Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, and other ministers, especially Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh. The latter would have resigned, had it not been for the intervention of Progressive Socialist Party head MP Walid Jumblatt.
MPs are expected to raise all these questions, while the Cabinet’s response remains unknown.
The same ministerial source hinted at a “malicious” intent among a number of blocs. He claims they aim to compromise Aoun’s tenure, despite Aoun’s insistence that the current Cabinet represents the political parties and a Parliament that had extended its own term twice, and is that it is not actually the first Cabinet in his presidency.
The source concluded that the Cabinet will not falter during the open discussion, yet reigning in the sessions and maintaining order will be difficult, to say the least, even for an astute veteran such as the likes of Berri.
The fact remains: There are divisions between the major political blocs as there are divisions within the blocs themselves. The session itself comes in light of expected political posturing and the grand spectacle that precedes any electoral race.
Lawmakers will not hesitate to take advantage of the situation in order to score popularity points that assure them a seat, whether within a hybrid or proportional system.
That is if an electoral law even emerges. If it doesn’t, therein lies the real calamity.