March 14 to urge LF to attend next Parliament session

March 14 lawmakers will intensify efforts to convince theLebanese Forces Party to take part in a legislative session before the end of Parliament’s regular term, sources from the coalition said Wednesday.

Speaker Nabih Berri has expressed his irritation with the decision of major Christian parties to boycott the upcoming legislative session.

Speaking to The Daily Star, the sources said that March 14 MPs were trying to persuade the LF to rethink its decision to boycott the session by including the 2015 draft budget on the agenda.

Sources said that the attempt was aimed at securing the holding of a legislative session before the expiration of Parliament’s regular term at the end of May.

Out of respect for Lebanon’s National Pact, which dictates its confessional power sharing system, Speaker Nabih Berri will not chair a Parliament session that is boycotted by all the Christian parties who have significant representation.

Three powerful Christian blocs, the Kataeb Party, MP Michel Aoun’s bloc and the LF, have announced they will boycott the legislative session.

The Kataeb Party opposes any legislative session before the election of a new president, while the LF and Aoun’s bloc maintain that the draft laws on the session’s agenda do not fall under the category of ‘necessary legislation’ which is all they will support in the absence of a president.

Berri expressed his frustration at Parliament’s paralysis, as a number of pressing draft laws await approval.

“Halting the legislative activity and paralyzing Parliament is unacceptable, knowing that the draft laws to be included on the agenda of the session are important and non-contentious,” Berri reportedly told lawmakers Wednesday during his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

In earlier remarks, Berri warned that he would ask the new president to call on the government to dissolve Parliament if lawmakers continued to boycott sessions.

Parliamentary sources said that convincing the LF to participate in the session is also aimed at isolating Aoun’s bloc.

LF MP George Adwan said his group would only attend a Parliament session to pass necessary draft laws, which he said should include the 2015 draft budget and a new election law.

“We are ready for necessary legislating, which should start with two draft laws: the draft budget including figures from the [public sector] salary scale, and the election law,” Adwan said at a news conference in Parliament.

“Legally and financially speaking, excluding the cost of the salary scale from the draft budget is a constitutional heresy,” he added.

“The fact that the budget is comprehensive requires that it should include all expenses and revenues. I am surprised how someone can talk about excluding something costing around LL2 trillion from the draft budget. How can we understand how much the deficit is, if this amount is spent outside the budget?” Adwan asked.

Integrating the salary scale’s figures into the 2015 draft budget is a divisive issue – Aoun’s bloc and the Kataeb Party both oppose the move. The dispute has prevented the government from approving the draft budget twice over the past week.

Teachers and public sector employees have been demanding that Parliament approve the salary scale for the last three years, and will strike Thursday to protest its repeated delay.

Adwan said excluding the draft election law from the agenda of the upcoming legislative session indicated a willingness to continue to apply the current election law, known as the 1960 law.

“Elections under the 1960 law will deprive a significant number of the Lebanese from appropriate representation,” he claimed.

Future bloc MP Ghazi Youssef, who also spoke at the news conference, said his group backed including the salary scale figures in the budget.

“The draft budget forecasts the expenses and revenues stipulated by the government. So if we want to forecast salary scale figures, we should include them in the draft budget,” Youssef said.

The lawmaker voiced his surprise that some political parties are calling for the separation of the draft budget and salary scale figures when they supported their integration during parliamentary committee meetings.

Adwan’s stance on the issue appeared to soften after a meeting with Youssef, Future bloc head Fouad Siniora and MP Marwan Hamade from Walid Jumblatt’s bloc.

Speaking after the meeting, Adwan said that an agreement had been reached on attending the Parliament session, provided the government referred to the legislature a budget including the salary scale figures.

Siniora highlighted the need for Parliament to resume its legislating activity. “The presidency in Lebanon has been hijacked, the government is being shaken every day, and we are left with Parliament, which should give the civilized image that it is working,” Siniora said.

Berri postponed Wednesday’s Parliament session to elect a president until May 13, after the legislature failed to elect a head of the state for the 22nd time for the lack of quorum.

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