Ministers to tackle Cabinet mechanism row next week

Prime Minister Tammam Salam will call for a Cabinet session next week despite the lingering dispute among ministers over the government’s decision-making mechanism, sources close to the premier said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri left for Riyadh Wednesday night following a 12-day stay in Beirut. Hariri arrived here on Feb. 13 to address a Future Movement rally to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He also had talks with several political leaders on the presidential election deadlock.

The Cabinet will meet next Thursday to discuss the agenda of the previous session which was cut short by Salam two weeks ago following a heated debate between a number of ministers over a mechanism to govern the Cabinet’s decisions during the 9-month-old presidential vacuum, the sources said.

The crisis over the decision-making system, which prompted Salam to suspend sessions in the past two weeks until agreement is reached among ministers on a new mechanism, will be discussed from outside the agenda to allow the Cabinet’s main parties to find a more productive formula, the sources said.

With the 24 ministers split over Salam’s bid to change the government’s decision-making formula, each minister will air his views on a new mechanism after the row between supporters and opponents of the change reached the limits of belittling the presidency in favor of the premiership, the sources added.

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.

In the face of Salam’s insistence on amending the decision-making system, seven Christian ministers and a Muslim minister, who met at former President Michel Sleiman’s residence in Yarze last week, oppose the change, saying the Cabinet should serve in a caretaker capacity until a new president is elected.The sources did not say what decision Salam might take after hearing the views of all ministers, with one side insisting on a change in the decision-making mechanism on the basis of Article 65 in the Constitution and another stressing the need to maintain the current system.

However, ministerial sources said they did not expect an official announcement of a change in the current mechanism during next week’s session but rather the adoption of consensus on decisions, which falls short of unanimous support from all the 24 ministers as is the case now.

Salam attributed the failure to elect a president to the row over Cabinet’s decision-making mechanism. “A country without a president is a mutilated body. The disruption plaguing the Cabinet’s work and the row over the Cabinet’s mechanism are the byproduct of this big sin, which will not be erased except with the votes of the nation’s lawmakers carrying the name of the new president of the Lebanese Republic,” Salam said in a speech at the Arab Forum for Food Safety, which opened in Beirut.

For his part, Speaker Nabih Berri called on Salam to call for a Cabinet session “as soon as possible to reactivate the state’s work according to the Constitution’s standards.”

Berri, according to MPs who met him at his Ain al-Tineh residence during his weekly meeting with lawmakers, stressed that Article 65 of the Constitution should be the only basis for Cabinet’s decision-making.

Article 65 of the Lebanese 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 is conducted.

Meanwhile, seven ministers – the three Kataeb Party ministers, the three ministers loyal to Sleiman, and Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb, who oppose a change in the Cabinet’s decision-making system, reiterated their call for the government to continue to run the people’s affairs until a new president is elected.

The ministers along with Sleiman met at Kataeb Party leader and former President Amine Gemayel’s residence in Sin al-Fil as part of their consultations on the Cabinet crisis and the presidential deadlock.

“Our aim is to accelerate the election of a president and at the same time continue the government’s momentum,” Gemayel said in a statement after the meeting. “The participants stressed their keenness to ensure the continuity of the government’s work without obstructing it,” he added.

“They agreed that [the government] must continue to run the affairs of the people and the state until a new president is elected.”