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Mikati, March 14 team up to thwart session
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A Parliament session on extending the Army commanderís term will not be held Monday for lack of quorum due to a row over the constitutionality of such sessions with a resigned government, political leaders said.

The March 14 coalition has teamed up with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati against Speaker Nabih Berri in opposing the session.ďThe Future bloc and its March 14 allies will boycott Mondayís Parliament session for political and constitutional reasons,Ē former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star.

ďIt seems that the Parliament meetings will be used to pass all kinds of draft laws with the presence of a resigned government,Ē Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said, warning against attempts to use Parliament to replace the Cabinet.

Also Sunday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns arrived in Beirut for talks with top Lebanese officials on security and political developments in Lebanon and the war in Syria. He met with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt at the latterís residence in Beirut before holding talks with Siniora at former Prime Minister Saad Haririís residence in Downtown Beirut.

Burns, who was accompanied in the two meetings by U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly, did not speak to reporters. The U.S. official will also hold talks Monday with President Michel Sleiman and Mikati. He is to hold a news conference at Beirut airport before his departure.

Siniora said that with Mikatiís government in a caretaker capacity since March 22, priority should be given to the formation of a new Cabinet.

Asked if any progress has been made to break the nearly three-month Cabinet deadlock, he said: ďNo breakthrough so far.Ē

Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said his parliamentary bloc would boycott Mondayís session, adding that his group initially made a mistake by approving a series of Parliament meetings called for by Berri for this week.

ďWe were surprised by draft laws [put on the agenda], and we asked Speaker Berri about the constitutionality of legislation in this period [under a caretaker Cabinet],Ē Zahra told LBCI TV. He said that Berri explained to them that he had discussed the matter with Sleiman and Mikati.

Hitting back at his critics, Berri defended the legality of the sessions, saying Parliament is already considered to be in an extraordinary session until a new Cabinet is formed. He said all members of Parliamentís secretariat approved the sessions.

Berri called three consecutive legislative sessions for this week Ė from Monday to Wednesday Ė to study and approve some 45 draft laws listed on Parliamentís agenda. Among these is a proposal to extend the term of Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi by raising the retirement age of top military and security officials.

In boycotting the sessions, Mikati and March 14 politicians argued that except for a proposal that would extend Kahwagiís mandate, none of the 45 draft laws put on Parliamentís agenda were deemed urgent to justify a series of legislative sessions.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who strongly opposes the extension of Kahwagiís term, said he and members of his parliamentary bloc would boycott Mondayís session in protest against its agenda.

In an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Sunday night, Aoun said the session would not be held for lack of quorum.

ďTomorrowís session is legitimate but we will boycott it for reasons related to its agenda,Ē he said.

The Kataeb Party called for postponing the Parliament session until consensus was reached to ensure attendance and agreement on the extension of Kahwagiís term.

Defying the boycott threats, Berri said the session would take place as planned and urged all MPs to attend and vote against any draft law they donít approve of. He said Parliament was fully entitled to pass laws while there was a resigned government.ďAll draft laws listed on the agenda are within Parliamentís right to list them. Any talk outside this framework has nothing to do with the Constitution,Ē Berri said at a rare news conference held at his residence in Ain al-Tineh Saturday. ďParliament is the mother of institutions and no one except the Constitution can stop it from legislation.Ē

ďThe principal issue is that Parliament is considered automatically in an extraordinary session and with all its prerogatives, without any curtailments, [when the Cabinet resigns or is considered resigned],Ē Berri said.

Berri said that history, both before and after the 1989 Taif Accord, had ample examples of Parliament convening while there was a resigned government. Turning to a recent case, he said that Parliamentís term was extended last month under Mikatiís resigned government.

In a quick retort to Berri, Mikati said articles in the Constitution prevented a resigned government from attending a Parliamentís legislative session.

Mikati said in light of the resigned government, ďit does not make sense that Parliament unilaterally exercises all of its constitutional prerogatives in an absolute manner, without limitations, using an exceptional article that deals exclusively with cases when the government has resigned or is considered resigned.Ē

For his part, Jumblatt defended Berriís move to convene Parliament, accusing some sides of hypocrisy. ďWasnít the Parliamentís term extended under the eyes of the resigned government? What has changed?Ē he asked.


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