BEIRUT: The already-stalled Cabinet formation efforts took an official break Wednesday when President Michel Sleiman left with his wife on a private three-day visit to France, while Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam departed with his wife for a family trip to Greece.
The two men’s vacations come against the backdrop of serious security threats facing the country following last week’s deadly car bombing in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the discovery of a vehicle loaded with 250 kilograms of explosives in the coastal town of Naameh, south of the capital.
Thirty people were killed and more than 300 others wounded in the bombing that ripped through the Hezbollah stronghold of Ruwaiss in the deadliest attack since the 1975-90 Civil War.
Salam, who was appointed prime minister-designate on April 6, is facing major hurdles in his attempts to form a new Cabinet given the conditions and counterconditions set by the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup and role of the new government.
The security threats triggered calls from leaders on both sides of the political divide for a quick formation of a new government to deal with the deteriorating security and socio-economic conditions in the country.
On the eve of their trips, Salam met with Sleiman to assess the outcome of his consultations and contacts aimed at forming a new Cabinet.
Although Salam’s visit to Baabda Palace did not generate anything new to break the four-month-long Cabinet stalemate, political sources said the premier-designate was rethinking his approach to the entire government issue, especially following the Ruwaiss blast, amid diplomatic reports about a plot to destabilize Lebanon.
“This requires a re-evaluation of the entire situation and adopting a wait-and-see stance before taking any incomplete step [toward the Cabinet formation] because the formation rules that existed before this deteriorating security situation are no longer valid,” a political source said.
“Matters need further consultations before a final decision on the Cabinet issue can be taken,” the source added.
According to the source, senior Lebanese officials have recently received warnings from Arab and European officials that the situation in Lebanon was taking a very dangerous turn.
The fighting in Syria has recently reached dramatic heights, with reports of an alleged chemical attack Wednesday, while the convening of a Geneva II peace conference to end the bloodshed in the war-ravaged country has stalled indefinitely.
“Therefore, these developments require the formation of a broad-based national political front representing all of Lebanon; this would end the obstruction [of state institutions] and a power vacuum,” the source said.
Baabda sources described a vacuum in any constitutional institution as “the chief enemy of stability.”
“Therefore, any negligence in arriving at a clear vision to facilitate the Cabinet formation is a crime tantamount to the crimes of violating the Constitution and laws,” a Baabda source said.
“Political divisions, no matter how deep they are, must remain in the framework of a democratic struggle; they shouldn’t take a negative course that leads to clashes in the street.”
The March 14 coalition has called for the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan Cabinet and rejected Hezbollah’s participation in the government until it withdraws its fighters from Syria.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have warned against forming a neutral or fait accompli Cabinet. They demand a national unity government in which all political parties are represented in proportion to the size of their number of seat in Parliament.