Defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions is the main item on the dialogue agenda, which also includes finding a mechanism to allow the election of a president, boosting efforts to combat terrorism, promoting a new electoral law and energizing stagnant state institutions.The dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, whose strained ties have heightened political and sectarian tensions in the country, has won support from rival March 8 and March 14 politicians, as well as from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, the United States and the European Union.As in previous sessions, the Future Movement was represented during Monday’s meeting by Nader Hariri, chief of Saad Hariri’s staff, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and MP Samir Jisr.Hezbollah was represented by Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Nasrallah, Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan and MP Hassan Fadlallah. Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, also attended.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tammam Salam has decided to call for a Cabinet session Thursday or early next week despite the lingering rift over the decision-making mechanism, ministerial sources close to the premier said.
The sources said Salam would not accept the continued obstruction of the government’s work, especially since his Cabinet was not responsible for Parliament’s repeated failures to elect a new president.
On the contrary, Salam has stressed on every occasion that the country cannot be on the right track without a president, the sources said.As part of his ongoing consultations with the Cabinet parties to resolve the crisis over the decision-making formula, Salam is scheduled to meet with Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel Wednesday, sources at the Grand Serail told The Daily Star.The three Kataeb ministers along with three ministers loyal to former President Michel Sleiman and Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb oppose Salam’s bid to change the current mechanism.Salam, according to the sources, is seeking to replace the current mechanism with a formula based on consensus or voting over the Cabinet decisions.Salam’s demand, which falls short of unanimity and avoids obstruction, means that when normal matters pertaining to appointments or citizens’ interests are discussed, consensus would be sought to pass them, the sources said.
But if there was disagreement among ministers, these issues would not be postponed as had happened in the past and instead they would be put up for a vote, the sources said. They added that ministers who oppose decisions passed by a simple majority vote can register their reservations or take the decision they think conforms with their interests and political objectives.According to the sources, public appointments, especially in the military and security institutions, could be approved if there was a maximum consensus, or an agreement by the majority of the Cabinet members.Salam last month suspended the Cabinet sessions following a heated debate between a number of ministers over a formula to govern the government’s decisions during the presidential vacuum.Salam, backed by most ministers, is demanding a change in the current mechanism, which requires unanimous support from all 24 ministers on the Cabinet decisions. He complained that the mechanism has hampered the government’s productivity due to disagreement among ministers on decisions taken by the Cabinet.For his part, Gemayel spoke of what he called deliberate attempts to prevent the election of a new president. “The obstruction of the [political] system amounts to a coup against the system. This is what we are witnessing today,” Gemayel, a former president, said in a statement. “Obstruction does not apply to democratic law.”
He accused lawmakers from MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and their allies in Hezbollah’s bloc of thwarting a quorum for a Parliament session to elect a president.