DBAYEH, Lebanon: Tripoli MP Robert Fadel said he would announce a new initiative to break the presidential deadlock Wednesday, adding that he would consider all options, including resignation, if efforts hit a dead end and the paralysis in Parliament dragged on.
During an interview with The Daily Star at his Dbayeh office Tuesday, the independent March 14 lawmaker stressed that there was much the Lebanese people could do to pressure their leaders to end the crisis, saying it is the public who is harmed most by the ongoing political vacuum.
“Tomorrow we have an election session. If we don’t have a vote, which I expect we won’t, then I will have a news conference in Parliament to discuss this and ... announce an initiative,” Fadel said.
A 23rd parliamentary session to elect a president is scheduled for Wednesday, but as in previous meetings, the legislature will likely not be able to convene for lack of a quorum.
MPs from Michel Aoun’s bloc and most March 8 lawmakers have boycotted all previous sessions, arguing that they will only show up when an agreement has been reached among various political groups on a presidential candidate, whom they insist should be Aoun. But Aoun’s candidacy is opposed by March 14 rivals. The presidential interregnum will enter its second year on May 25.
“We can’t just go into the second year as if nothing is happening,” Fadel said.
The MP said he would capitalize on his relationships with political parties and do his utmost to secure the election of a president in the upcoming period.
“The first thing I would want to do is ... use my relationships and my friendships within the political parties in Lebanon to push for an election, because this is my duty, and I will do my very best to do that in the coming weeks.”
Fadel added that if his efforts hit a dead end, then all options, including his resignation from Parliament, would be on the table.
The lawmaker expressed his extreme dissatisfaction with the paralysis in Parliament resulting from a vacant presidency.
The decision of the country’s major Christian blocs to boycott a legislative session that Speaker Nabih Berri plans to call for this month has resulted in its postponement so far.
The Kataeb Party has argued that in the absence of a president, Parliament should only convene to elect one. Aoun’s bloc and the Lebanese Forces maintain that Parliament should only engage in passing “legislation of necessity” during the vacuum, and have said they won’t attend the legislative session unless an electoral draft law and a draft law allowing foreigners of Lebanese origin to receive citizenship are added to the agenda.
Parliament’s term has been extended twice in the past two years, and the legislature has endorsed few laws in that period.
Fadel said he supported restraining Parliament’s activities to “legislation of necessity,” but stressed that a draft law he proposed to alleviate the condition of 300,000 Lebanese living in extreme poverty should be on the legislative session’s agenda.
“My approach to this is very simple. You know the slogan ‘Lebanon first’? I say the ‘citizen first.’ Yes we can restrain [legislation], but what in my opinion should be the defining criteria is what serves the citizen. ... So I am in favor, for example, of passing this law on extreme poverty, because for me this is as important as the electoral law,” Fadel said.
He said his proposed draft law would provide financial assistance to families living on $2 per day, in order to ensure that kids can go to school and parents can find jobs.
“We are giving financial assistance that is conditional ... on having the kids of these families go to school, because in some areas drop-out rates reach 50 percent, and [also on] having the parents go through vocational training, [so they will] be able to find a job,” he said.
Fadel lamented that his draft law has not been placed on the agenda of the legislative session.
“And what is even worse is that they tell you this is not part of the legislation of necessity. ... Can one tell me what is more urgent than the basic needs of 10 percent of the population of Lebanon?”
Fadel said that he felt that the people’s concerns and problems figured very low on the priorities of politicians, who busy themselves with political debate.
Citing another example, Fadel said that although it had been endorsed by Parliament, a draft law he proposed to solve Lebanon’s chronic power shortages has yet to be implemented.
“It’s a very simple law. It allows the government to contract the private sector for the production of electricity. We need 1,500 megawatts of electricity and the government doesn’t have the financial means to do that.”
He said implementation of the law would ensure 24-hour power every day of the week, and reduce electricity bills by 37 percent.
Despite persistent power cuts, Electricite du Liban runs an annual deficit of $2 billion.
“The only thing I’ve heard is that this law cannot be implemented for legal reasons. [But] there is nothing above a law that prevents it from being implemented besides the Constitution, and as far as I know this law is not against the Constitution.”
Fadel warned that according to the law, the government has a two-year window to issue contracts to the private sector, and one year has already passed.
A prominent businessman, the 45-year-old Fadel has been donating his salary to nonpolitical NGOs and needy students since Parliament extended its term for the second time last November.
While he did not vote for the first extension, Fadel said he backed the second out of fear that the Parliament could fall into vacuum just like the presidency.
“But now a year has passed and I don’t feel comfortable. ... I just wonder what is the point today of being an MP in a Parliament that doesn’t elect a president and does not pass any laws,” Fadel said.
The lawmaker said he believed that the current political class was incapable of bringing an end to the presidential deadlock, and that either a regional settlement or an increase in popular pressure would be necessary to achieve a breakthrough.
Fadel expressed his utmost faith in the ability of the people, who he said were paying the highest price for the political crisis, to enact change and force the election of a president.
“It will be a regional settlement unless civil society and other people are able to put more pressure on political leaders.”
“People think they can’t impact the political agenda – it’s not true. People have a huge impact, because elections are still the way to have a political role in Lebanon, whether we like it or not,” Fadel said.
“Even within their own parties they should be more demanding; they should ask their leaders a very simple question, ‘What did you do for the people?’”
Fadel said that he backed the election of a consensus candidate on the condition that he was competent and has the required qualifications. “But if, with the vetoes and countervetoes, we end up with a president that lacks qualifications, then I am definitely not for that kind of president.”