BEIRUT: A source close to Speaker Nabih Berri was suspicious Tuesday of Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s call to convene a Parliament session to clearly specify what tasks a caretaker Cabinet had the jurisdiction to carry out.
The source close to the speaker questioned the timing of Mikati’s initiative, noting that the caretaker prime minister had boycotted previous sessions called for by Berri.
“When the legislation [in the Constitution] specified the tasks a government can carry out when in caretaker status, he did not think that the time to form a new government would exceed the reasonable timeframe,” Mikati told visitors at the Grand Serail.
“Thus, it has become necessary to clearly spell out the tasks a caretaker Cabinet can carry out, and the Parliament is the arena where this can happen,” Mikati said.
Mikati said he would bring up the issue with Berri personally.
Mikati has resisted calls from the March 8 coalition to hold a session to approve the decrees needed to award tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration. He said that according to the legal opinion of the Shura Council, a caretaker government cannot make these decisions.
Other crucial issues requiring Cabinet action include key appointments, including a chief for the Internal Security Forces and a state prosecutor.
Nominated in April, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has been unable to assemble his government due to conditions and counter-conditions by the March 8 and March 14 coalitions.
The source close to Berri voiced surprise at Mikati’s call, saying the caretaker prime minister had boycotted a number of Parliament sessions convened by Berri in recent months.
“Will caretaker Prime Minister Mikati attend a session called for by Speaker Berri this time? Hasn’t he boycotted all Parliament sessions called for by the speaker under the pretext that Parliament could not convene under a caretaker government?” the source told The Daily Star.
Mikati, the Future Movement and other March 14 MPs have boycotted every legislative session called for by Berri since July.
They argue that under a caretaker government, Parliament can only convene to discuss urgent issues, not the session’s 45-item agenda. The boycott, joined by Michel Aoun’s MPs, has deprived the sessions of a quorum.
But Berri argues that according to the Constitution, the legislature can convene at any time to discuss any issue.
“Does caretaker Prime Minister Mikati want to make his caretaker government a full-fledged government again by asking for such an explanation? What will the job of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam be then?” the source said.
MP Jamal Jarrah, from the Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, agreed with Mikati’s stance that the legislature was responsible for explaining laws and texts in the Constitution.
“Parliament is the authority that explains laws, but besides this issue [that of explaining the powers of a caretaker Cabinet], there are many legal and constitutional texts that need to be clarified,” Jarrah said.
“These include the quorum needed to elect a president among other issues. I support holding a Parliament session to explain all ambiguous texts,” Jarrah said, adding that this was his personal opinion rather than that of his bloc.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, called on the caretaker government to convene and address pressing issues.
“It is unacceptable that vacuum continues, and the caretaker government should meet to act on pending issues,” Kanaan said after the weekly meeting of his bloc chaired by Aoun at his Rabieh residence.
“Don’t important issues such as Lebanon’s participation in the Geneva II conference require a Cabinet session?” Kanaan said.
Russia and the United States are planning to hold the conference in order to come to a political solution for the Syria crisis.
Meanwhile, the Future bloc reiterated that discussions to form an all-embracing government could only begin after Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria and adheres to the Baabda Declaration.
In a statement after its weekly meeting, the bloc added that until these conditions were met, it supported the formation of a neutral government.
Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said that March 14 groups were disappointed after the U.S. refrained from launching a military operation against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons against rebel-held areas in August.
“They are now upset with their American masters for not striking Syria, thinking that their disappointment will bring them some gain,” Raad said during a ceremony in the south.
“Our call – to join an all-embracing political government in which political groups are represented based on their size in Parliament – aims to help them get out of this crisis,” Raad said.
Separately, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Monday voiced support for the formation of a government in Lebanon in the absence of intimidation by Hezbollah.
“On Lebanon, we also discussed the importance of our strong support for responsible moderates who will still work for government formation without Hezbollah intimidation,” Kerry said during a news conference with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, in Riyadh.
“We think it’s important that Hezbollah not be allowed to define that future,” he added.