Current mechanism to govern Cabinet session: Berri

The Cabinet will meet this week under the current decision-making system, Speaker Nabih Berri said Sunday, as Prime Minister Tammam Salam scrambled to resolve a widening row over the controversial mechanism that has thrown the government into paralysis.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement and Hezbollah will begin Monday discussing a mechanism to facilitate the election of a new president, as the presidential deadlock has entered its 10th month with no solution in sight.

“The presidential election issue is a main topic on the agenda of Monday’s dialogue session,” a member of the Future-Hezbollah dialogue team said speaking on condition of anonymity.

Asked if officials from the two rival influential parties would also discuss other topics, including a joint national strategy to fight terrorism, he said: “The dialogue agenda is open to discuss any issue that might be brought up.”

Monday’s will be the seventh round of talks held by the Future Movement and Hezbollah since December, focusing mainly on defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions exacerbated by the 4-year-old war in Syria.

Berri, according to visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence, said he expected the Cabinet to convene this week under “the mechanism used to make Cabinet decisions, coupled with a change in spirit and practice.”

“I personally prefer resorting to the Constitution, which calls for consensus in the first place in making decisions, but if this proves difficult to achieve, we will go to voting,” Berri was quoted by visitors as saying. He added that the ministers who do not like voting can object or withdraw from the session.

Berri said that the two ministers representing the Amal Movement in the Cabinet would register their reservations should the current decision-making mechanism, which requires unanimous support from all 24 ministers on the Cabinet decisions, continue to be utilized.

“But we will not obstruct the Cabinet’s work,” he said. The speaker said Salam, who is pushing for a change in the current mechanism, supports a consensus on Cabinet decisions that falls short of unanimity and avoids obstruction.

He accused the paralyzed Cabinet of hampering Parliament legislation “because it did not open an extraordinary session for Parliament.”

Salam stepped up his consultations with the Cabinet parties with the aim of reaching a new formula on the government’s decision-making that would clear the way for a Cabinet session Thursday, sources close to the premier said.“A Cabinet session this week is still up in the air. Prime Minister Salam is continuing his consultations to reach a formula based on consensus rather than on unanimous support from all the 24 ministers on the Cabinet decision,” a source said.

A meeting between Salam and Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel could be held in the next two days to explore a solution the crisis over the decision-making mechanism. Former President Michel Sleiman, who opposes changing the current mechanism, might attend the meeting.

Salam last month suspended the Cabinet sessions following a heated debate between a number of ministers over a mechanism to govern the government’s decisions during the 9-month-old presidential vacuum.

Salam, backed by most ministers, is demanding a change in the current mechanism, which requires unanimous support from all 24 ministers on the Cabinet decisions. He argued that the mechanism has hindered the government’s productivity due to disagreement among ministers on decisions taken by the Cabinet.

But the three Kataeb ministers and three ministers loyal to Sleiman and Telecoms Minister Butros Harb oppose the change, saying the Cabinet should serve in a caretaker capacity until a new president is elected.

Salam stressed that addressing the crisis should be based on Article 65 in the Constitution which calls for consensus on Cabinet decisions. “This consensus is a priority in our National Pact [on power-sharing] and our Constitution is based on consensus,” he said.

Article 65 of the Constitution states that the Cabinet can only be activated if two-thirds of the ministers are present and that decisions must be made unanimously. However, in cases where a consensus cannot be reached, the Constitution requires that a simple majority vote be conducted.

For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai warned of attempts to devise a Cabinet mechanism to replace the presidency, renewing his call for a quick election of a president.

“We call for the election of a new president today before it is too late. The presidential vacuum is not a cause for devising an alternative to the presence of a president. The presidency is indispensable, even for one moment,” Rai said during his Sunday sermon in Bkirki, north of Beirut. “These two practices, an alternative mechanism and dispensing with [the [presidency], are a clear violation of the Constitution.”