Lebanon News

Thorny issues besiege Lebanon Cabinet

BEIRUT: The new Cabinet will hold its first meeting Wednesday to form a committee designed to draft a policy statement outlining the government’s position on divisive issues such as Hezbollah’s arsenal and the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Other major issues that have divided the Lebanese are the country’s relations with Syria, its international obligations vis-a-vis the STL and U.N. resolutions, namely Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon.

The meeting will be chaired by President Michel Sleiman at the Presidential Palace in Baabda and attended by Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s 30-member Cabinet, minus one. Minister of State Talal Arslan, who had demanded the defense portfolio, has announced his resignation to protest the portfolio he was allotted. It was unclear if Arslan had submitted his resignation in writing yet.

Ahead of the meeting, the Cabinet’s members will be joined by Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri for a commemorative photograph at the Baabda Palace.

Mikati flew with his wife, May, Tuesday on a private plane to Saudi Arabia to perform Umra (minor pilgrimage) in Mecca. It was not immediately known whether Mikati, who maintains good relations with the Saudi leadership, would meet any Saudi official.

After nearly five months of tough bargaining, Mikati unveiled a 30-member government Monday, dominated by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance. The Cabinet’s formation has ended a political stalemate that has left the divided country in a power vacuum. The government was viewed as one-sided because it did not include any representative from the March 14 parties who had decided to boycott any Cabinet formed by Mikati.

Once it has drafted its policy statement, the government will go to Parliament to seek a vote of confidence based on its policy statement. Drafting the policy statement is expected to take weeks, as sensitive issues such as Hezbollah’s arms, the STL, Resolution 1701 and Lebanon’s relations with Syria must be addressed.

A confidence vote is guaranteed, given the fact the March 8 coalition and its allies have a majority in Parliament.

A controversial legislative session scheduled for Wednesday was postponed Tuesday, with an exact date to be announced later. Announcing the postponement, Berri said the date will be set after Mikati’s government has been granted a vote of confidence.

The session, set to discuss urgent issues, including the renewal of Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh’s mandate, collapsed last Wednesday because of lack of quorum which Berri blamed on the rival March 14 camp.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet’s formation has come under fire from the March 14 parties which dismissed it as a Hezbollah-dominated government.

“The formation of the new government has ended unilaterally, with political imbalance, and has also chosen the policy of provincial imbalance. Therefore, the government announced by Prime Minister Mikati is the government of the March 8 [camp], Hezbollah and political spite,” said a statement issued after a meeting of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc.

Referring to Mikati’s middle-of-the-road politics, the statement said the new Cabinet was characterized by “confrontation, be it locally by insisting on eliminating the other party’s point of view, or by confronting the Arab and international public opinion by failing to honor Lebanon’s Arab and international obligations.”

“Instead of serving as a meeting point to contain tension and deal with crises amid the current internal divisions … [Mikati’s] alleged centrism has been toppled, leading to the emergence of a politically unilateral government,” the statement said.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who emerged as the biggest winner from the Cabinet lineup, with 10 ministers from his movement and allies, met with the new ministers at his residence in Rabieh, urging them to reform the public administration.

“The reform process is going on and is independent from the government’s formation. It will not stop with the Cabinet’s formation,” Aoun said.

Asked whether the new government should adhere to the U.N. resolutions Aoun said: “We are committed to the U.N. resolutions. With regard to the tribunal issue, we are not in confrontation with it but with its justice … We will first wait to see how its decisions will reach us.”

The U.S. said Monday it would judge the new Lebanese government by its actions. The U.S. and other Western countries have called on the new government to respect its international obligations, mainly the requirements of the STL treaty Lebanon signed with the U.N. and Resolution 1701.Kataeb [Phalange] Party leader Amin Gemayel underlined the need for Lebanon to adhere to the STL and U.N. resolutions, particularly Resolution 1701. He said Mikati’s Cabinet will not be able to solve the country’s crises because it is a one-sided government.

“The government that has been formed is a one-sided government which will not be able to confront all the challenges facing Lebanon,” Gemayel told LBCI television. “The government is bound with clear conditions with regard to policy and objectives. Therefore, it cannot solve the crises plaguing the country.”

Referring to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s phone call to congratulate Sleiman on the Cabinet’s formation, Gemayel said: “The Syrian side was carefully following up all details of the government’s formation. Syria has specific interests. It is clear that the government’s formation happened in total coordination with it. The current government will coordinate with Syria which will seek to protect its internal arena.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 15, 2011, on page 1.




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