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Agreement to convene Cabinet unlikely
President Michel Sleiman, center, attends a ceremony in honor of former presidents in Baabda, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
President Michel Sleiman, center, attends a ceremony in honor of former presidents in Baabda, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: It’s too early to say whether caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s consultations with President Michel Sleiman and various political parties might lead to an agreement to convene the Cabinet, a ministerial source said Sunday.

The source, speaking to The Daily Star, was commenting on media reports that Mikati had decided to convene Cabinet to address security threats, namely the fighting in Tripoli as a result of the fallout of the war in Syria.

“We have not been officially notified of a Cabinet session,” the source said. He added that Mikati had proposed the possibility of convening the Cabinet to a number of ministers.

However, political sources said convening a Cabinet session was neither fully constitutional nor legal, but a purely political issue pertaining to Mikati’s relations with the March 14 parties, in particular the Future Movement, which opposes holding a meeting of a resigned Cabinet.

The sources recalled Mikati’s position based on the State Shura Council’s ruling that a resigned Cabinet could not meet. In addition, Mikati had said differences between major parties making up the Cabinet on the oil issue did not encourage holding a session, the sources said.

They also asked what had happened to Mikati’s bid to seek counsel from Parliament on which issues a resigned Cabinet could meet to discuss.

Before his Cabinet resigned on March 22, Mikati had said that he would step down in the face of a rebellion by a large number of ministers or if they crossed the limits in their relationship with the premiership, the sources said.

But the sources wondered what Mikati could now do in a Cabinet session if the majority of ministers decided to vote against him or oppose him on certain issues.

The sources recalled that the country had witnessed grave political and security incidents in the past months that required a Cabinet session but the government had not met.

Noting that the prime minister is the one who calls the Cabinet to meet and its agenda is prepared in coordination between him and the president, the sources said Sleiman’s recent political stances, which are anti-March 8 and anti-Hezbollah, do not signal that he would agree to a Cabinet session which the March 8 side had demanded since Mikati’s resignation.

The only situation that could prompt Mikati to convene the Cabinet is if he decided to respond to slander and harsh criticism launched against him by the March 14 coalition, particularly senior officials of the Future Movement, in his hometown of Tripoli, the sources said. Sources close to Mikati said that if the Cabinet was called to meet, this would not signify a resurrection of its governing role.

However, other political sources said convening Cabinet would mean refloating its role, given the fact that attempts to form a new government have reached a dead end, and the formation of a fait accompli Cabinet that does not gain Parliament’s confidence remains highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, Sleiman has appealed to lawmakers on both sides of the political divide to secure the necessary quorum to elect a new head of state, warning against allowing a vacuum in the country’s top post.

“As the date of the presidential election nears, I call on political leaders and lawmakers to assume their responsibilities ... by securing the necessary quorum for a [Parliament] session to elect a new president within the constitutional deadline in order to avoid falling into the danger of a presidential vacuum,” Sleiman said in a speech at Baabda Palace Saturday.

“The people want a president who is strong by the strength of a unifying national will, the strength of the Constitution and the strength of his wisdom, courage and impartiality,” he said during a ceremony to unveil the busts of Lebanese presidents since Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943. Twelve busts were unveiled in total.

Sleiman, whose six-year-term in office expires on May 25, 2014, warned that history had shown that “a vacuum opens the door to the infiltration of security, political and constitutional chaos.”

The president’s appeal comes as the country is reeling under a deepening political crisis that has left Lebanon without a functioning government for more than eight months and a paralyzed Parliament that has been unable to meet for a lack of quorum.

It also comes amid growing fears that in the absence of an agreement between the rival March 8 and March 14 leaders to elect a “consensus president,” as Sleiman was in 2008, Parliament would not be able to meet to elect a new president.

Sleiman, who has vowed to challenge any attempt to extend his mandate, said he was keen on abiding by the Constitution as a guarantee “not to fall into the temptation of extension or trap of a vacuum in the country’s institutions,” particularly the post of president.

Sleiman also warned against the rise of sectarian movements and implicitly criticized Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces.

He called for addressing the divisive issue of Hezbollah’s arms through National Dialogue, stalled since September 2012.

“Any arms outside the state’s authority and the unity of its decision will become part of the tools of a struggle for power or domination or a reserve force to inflame conflicts and civil wars,” Sleiman said.

For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea called for genuine presidential polls to be held on time, criticizing what he described as “closed-door arrangements” to agree on a consensus candidate.

“We are fed up with ‘cooking up’ [candidates] as used to happen – in the shadows – and fed up with arrangements that hundreds of factors and countries interfere in,” Geagea told an LF dinner in Maarab Saturday.

“We have experienced the consequences of these arrangements and it is high time to go to fair elections,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 09, 2013, on page 1.
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