Lebanon News

Parliament passes fistful of laws to much protest

BEIRUT: Parliament passed a long-awaited draft law to protect women against domestic violence Tuesday, but failed to introduce major amendments advocated by women’s rights groups.

The legislature also endorsed a draft rent law, but postponed till Wednesday an examination of a thorny bill that would make over 1,000 contract workers at Electricité du Liban full-timers. A bill establishing the post of an environmental public prosecutor was also among the 21 draft laws passed by Parliament Tuesday.

Women’s groups and EDL contract workers staged protests around Parliament as it debated draft laws throughout the day, which along with the usual roadblocks set up during Parliament sessions prompted heavy traffic congestion in Downtown Beirut.

The endorsement of the domestic violence law came against the backdrop of a recent surge in reported cases, with at least four alleged cases of a wife being killed by her husband receiving wide publicity this year alone.

The move sparked anger among women’s rights organizations and activists, as the legislature did not take into consideration amendments they have been calling for, including the criminalization of marital rape and the restriction of the title to just violence against women, as it currently includes family members too.

Activists are also demanding that complaints of violence be filed with the public prosecutor rather than the judge of urgent matters.

Following a lengthy debate, lawmakers also passed a contentious draft rent law opposed by longtime tenants. Under the new law, rents regulated by the old rent law would increase over six years until they reach 5 percent of the current market value of an apartment.

More than 200,000 apartments, mostly in the capital, are estimated to be rented under the old law, which governs lease contracts enacted before 1992.

Inhabitants pay minimal rent fees that often amount to less than LL1,000,000 a year – a remnant of the country’s preinflation days just after the Civil War.

A fund to be established by the government would help families earning up to three times the minimum wage (LL2,025,000) pay their rent as it increases, but longtime tenants argue that the draft law would displace thousands of families.

MP Walid Sukkarieh, from Hezbollah’s bloc, opposed the draft law, saying it would force many old tenants to leave their homes because they wouldn’t be able to afford the increasing rent. He called for forming a committee comprising representatives of the Finance, Justice and Social Affairs ministries to study the draft law.

Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi and Future bloc MP Ziad Qaderi said that the repercussions of the draft law were unknown.

But Future lawmaker Samir Jisr and MPs Marwan Hamade and Robert Ghanem voiced their support for the bill, saying it was the best attainable one and that the draft law has been dragging on for over a decade, a view that apparently was the dominant one, leading to the passing of the bill.

Parliament also formed a committee comprising MPs from various blocs in a bid to reach an agreement over the draft law to turn contract workers at Lebanon’s state electricity company, EDL, into full-timers.

The committee, comprising MPs Ali Bazzi, Ali Ammar, Mohammad Qabbani, Ibrahim Kanaan, Sami Gemayel, George Adwan and Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi failed to reach consensus on the draft law despite intensified contacts with Speaker Nabih Berri.

According to the draft law, the Council of Civil Service would hold examinations to fill EDL’s vacant posts. Contract workers insist that the tests be supervised by the council and argue that the workers’ expertise and fields should be taken into consideration. They are also demanding that contract workers be paid compensation, an item not stipulated in the draft law. Most of the contract workers are supporters of Berri’s Amal Movement.

The committee discussions indicated that representatives of Christian parties had agreed to oppose amendments to the draft law that would make all EDL contract workers full-timers on the grounds that it did not take the sectarian balance into consideration, as the majority of the workers are Muslim.

Under the current draft law, many of the contract workers could fail to meet the requirements to become full-timers.

EDL contract workers protested in Riad Solh Square several hundred meters away from Parliament, demanding that the draft law be amended. Some tried to break through security barriers to reach Parliament and engaged in fistfights with anti-riot police.

Bazzi, Adwan and Kanaan met a delegation from the protesters shortly after. EDL contract workers across Lebanon will go on strike Wednesday.

One thing that is not under discussion is the public sector salary increase, which did not make it onto this week’s parliamentary agenda.

Public sector employees and teachers will join EDL workers on strike Wednesday and will demonstrate in Downtown to protest procrastination by the joint committees in passing a draft law that would increase their pay. They have threatened to take escalatory steps if their demands are not met.

Air traffic controllers held a strike for two hours at Rafik Hariri International Airport Tuesday over the issue.

Speaking at the beginning of the session, Berri said that violence by protesters would change nothing. “There are people who have rightful demands such as Electricite du Liban workers and those demanding the draft law to increase salaries ... but Parliament does not accept to legislate under threats.”

“The finance minister is also relentlessly following up on the matter with the prime minister. So what is the reason for threats? I am not making threats now, but I tell all those outside that this will not help you,” he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 02, 2014, on page 1.




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