President Michel Sleiman is pushing to see a new government headed by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam announced before the former leaves in September for the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, sources close to the president told The Daily Star Tuesday.
Sleiman is hoping to arrive in New York on a triumphant note, so that he may represent Lebanon to the world as a country that is fighting to maintain its stability and security, as opposed to one that is buckling under the weight of accumulated crises and proxy battles. The formation of a new government would therefore be a uniting cause for the Lebanese and proof to the international community that the country is standing strong despite the threats it faces.
The president is therefore not eager to see the caretaker government resume its sessions under Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who hopes to resolve some important issues relating to oil and gas, the sources added.
These sources insist Sleiman is dragging his feet when it comes to moving forward on the current government’s agenda out of fear it will become the de facto ruling power and the formation of a new government will be shelved indefinitely.
The major political parties are still obsessed with the makeup of this new government, however, and the chances of coming up with a formula that pleases both sides remain slim.
Political sources said no progress had been made on this front, despite the president’s readiness to abandon his initial support for a fait accompli or neutral government in favor of an inclusive one.
The president has reportedly been putting a lot of pressure on Salam to throw all his weight into convincing the majority of the political players to support an inclusive government, and to keep channels open with those who can deliver the parliamentary support needed to approve the new government.
Sleiman does not consider the caretaker government a viable alternative to a representative one, despite the fact that the current Cabinet has won a vote of confidence in Parliament twice.
However, the same sources confirmed what has become obvious to most: that the prime minister-designate wants a tripartite government made up of uncontroversial names. Salam is reportedly convinced this formula would guarantee everyone’s interests and is still working unsuccessfully to bring it to fruition, despite the president’s opposition.
Observers told The Daily Star that at this point, Sleiman and Salam have just two options: a political government that includes Hezbollah and the March 8 coalition, or a fait accompli government that excludes Hezbollah but features neutral names that would suggest inclusiveness.
Despite a few leaked names of possible Shiite ministers, including Raed Sharafaddine as top economist, these observers insisted that no high-profile Shiite figure would accept a position in the new government without the approval of Hezbollah or the Amal Movement, in addition to the fact that Sleiman himself has abandoned the idea of a fait accompli government.
Regarding rumors of a “military government,” the sources said this was merely a scare tactic intended to pressure Salam to soften his position toward an inclusive government. Not only would the president never allow the military to have a hand in the government, but the prime minister-designate would surely refuse to head it.
The sources went on to say that the only way a fait accompli government would emerge would be as a result of a dramatic escalation of the war in Syria and its implications for Lebanon, which might push the president and the prime minister-designate to resort to this option.
If this were to happen, Hezbollah, March 8 and the rest of the pro-Syrian forces would not be in a position to block the formation of such a government, nor would Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt oppose it, especially if it did not include any political party members in accordance with the Future Movement’s proposal.
According to this plan, the government would merely see that the daily affairs of the government were carried out until presidential elections next summer, by which time the dust would hopefully have settled in Syria and elsewhere in the region.
The sources warned, however, that no breakthrough on the formation of a new government can occur without the approval of Jumblatt and Speaker Nabih Berri. Thus far, both have signaled that they will reject any government that does not include all political forces, including Hezbollah.
In the midst of this stalemate over the government, politics has taken a backseat to security. As police dogs sniff out suspicious vehicles, politicians and the public seem more concerned with the next car bomb than they are with the next government.