Lebanon News

Parliament adjourns first day of Cabinet policy debate

Members of MP Tammam Salam's government attend a meeting of Parliament deliberating on the Cabinet's policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence Wednesday, Mrach 19, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament Wednesday ended the first day of deliberations over Cabinet’s policy statement, with the government almost certain to win a sweeping majority vote of confidence in the upcoming legislative session.

Fourteen lawmakers gave statements during the first half of the session, offering their parliamentary bloc’s viewpoint on the ministerial statement. The session reconvened at 6 p.m. with 15 other MPs making brief speeches.

Speaker Nabih Berri called last week for two sessions starting Wednesday to debate the Cabinet’s policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence for the government to effectively begin its work.

MPs quoted the speaker as saying that Thursday's meeting would require lawmakers to vote, deciding the fate of Salam's 24-member Cabinet.

Before adjourning the first day of discussions, Berri said a number of lawmakers were scheduled to speak at Thursday's session at 10:30 a.m., including Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad, Future MP Fouad Siniora and Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel.

Last week, rival ministers drafted the policy statement after four weeks of political bickering over the controversial resistance clause.

The statement emphasizes the right of Lebanese citizens to resist “Israeli occupation, repulse its attacks and recover occupied territories” and stresses the state’s role in liberating its lands.

At the beginning of Wednesday’s legislative session, Prime Minister Tammam Salam read his Cabinet’s policy statement, saying that the document exemplified the meaning of a “national interest” government. “Despite the exceptional circumstances due to the security and economic concerns, and despite the difficult local and regional situation, the national interest needed to prevail,” said Salam, reading the document.

“This national unity government, which represents the national interest, is now before you and hopes to win your confidence after it won the trust of the political forces taking part in it,” he said.

It is the first time Parliament is meeting since it extended its term for 17 months last May.

Salam emphasized his government’s mandate, vision, mission and strategic objectives respectively pointing out that its “priority is to fight terrorism and boost security forces’ capabilities so that they can carry out this duty in addition to the duties at the border.”

He said the Cabinet also aimed at speeding up the process of arming the Lebanese Army “through various sources of funding, particularly the Saudi grant.”

Riyadh has pledged $3 billion for the Lebanese Army.

Salam said the government also sought to create an “appropriate atmosphere” for the upcoming presidential election and seek to approve a new elections law and finalize the administrative decentralization project.

He added that the government’s mandate sought to promote a positive climate for the resumption of National Dialogue sessions primarily on the national defense strategy, proposed by President Michel Sleiman to resolve the controversy over Hezbollah’s arsenal.

The statement also said the Cabinet would pay special attention to the oil sector and vowed to swiftly implement the necessary measures including issuing the licenses for gas and oil explorations.

“We vow to accelerate the needed measures to delineate Lebanon’s maritime borders in the Special Economic Zone,” he said.

Salam also affirmed his government’s commitment to unravel the truth behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and will follow the course of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon “which was established in principle to achieve justice at a distance from politicization and revenge and in a way that does not reflect negatively on Lebanon’s stability, unity, and civil peace.”

“[The government] will also boost its efforts on all levels [to follow up on the] disappearance of Imam Musa Sader and his two companions in Libya and will support the official committee aimed at freeing them,” he said.

On the overwhelming presence of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Salam said his Cabinet would put in place the needed mechanism to address the number of displaced Syrians which has “exceeded Lebanon’s ability to tolerate in terms of repercussions on the security, political and socioeconomic conditions.”

He said the Cabinet would hold the Arab world and international community responsible in this regard so that Lebanon could carry out its “ethical and humanitarian duties to facilitate their return home.”

On the resistance clause, the statement stipulates that the government would “commit to the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 to help [the country] enforce its authority on all its territory, U.N. and Arab League decisions based on the state’s responsibility and role in preserving sovereignty, independence, unity and safety of its land.”

“The government also emphasizes the state’s duty and attempt to liberate the Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shouba Hills and the Lebanese sector of the Ghajar village with all legitimate means as it affirms the rights of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repulse its attacks and recover occupied territories.”

The government would also continue with the policy of disassociation adopted by former Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet in 2011 to distance Lebanon from regional turmoil.

As expected, Lebanese Forces MPs gave the Cabinet a vote of no confidence. The party opposes joining a Cabinet that includes Hezbollah in light of the group’s military involvement in neighboring Syria.

“The Lebanese Forces will not sabotage the work of this government, but at the same time we will not grant it a vote of confidence, based on our belief in speaking the truth no matter how difficult, even if this puts us in a difficult and dangerous situation,” MP Strida Geagea told the house.

LF MPs Fadi Karam and Joseph Maalouf also gave a vote of no confidence with MP Imad Hout, an independent lawmaker and head of Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, abstaining.

Future parliamentary bloc MP Ammar Houri and former Prime Minister Najib Mikati gave the policy statement their vote of confidence.

Some of the lawmakers who spoke during the session did not say whether they would grant the government their vote.





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