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March 8 steps up rhetoric in run-up to presidential vote
File - Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem.(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
File - Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem.(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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BEIRUT: The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance is stepping up its rhetoric in the run-up to next year’s presidential election by reiterating its conditions for the formation of a new Cabinet and warning against a fait accompli government.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met in Paris with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri as part of their ongoing consultations on the deepening political crisis in Lebanon that has left the country without a functioning government for more than eight months.

The Cabinet deadlock has raised fears of a presidential vacuum if Parliament fails to elect a new leader on time.

The Paris meeting, which was attended by Future MP Nuhaq Mashnouq and March 14 MP Marwan Hamadeh, also discussed the work of the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which has scheduled Jan. 16, 2014, as the date for the start of trials of four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. A fifth Hezbollah member was also indicted in the case by the STL in August.

The Daily Star’s attempts to reach Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, and other participants in the meeting were not successful.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem Thursday renewed the March 8 demand for the formation of a national unity government or a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup in which both the March 8 and March 14 camps would have veto power.

Taking a direct swipe at President Michel Sleiman, whose ties with Hezbollah have been strained, Qassem also warned against a new Cabinet that lacked Parliament’s confidence taking over presidential duties if a new president was not elected on time to succeed Sleiman when his six-year-term in office expires on May 25, 2014.

“It is surprising for President Michel Sleiman to propose the formation of a new Cabinet to oversee the presidential election even if it does not win [Parliament’s] confidence. This matter is in breach of the Constitution,” Qassem said in a statement.

“A government that does not win [Parliament’s] confidence must not take over from a caretaker Cabinet and its role should not be to oversee the presidential election because legally it does not exist,” he added.

Qassem warned that the formation of such a government would plunge the country into “conflict, divisions and chaos.”

“It is better to exert efforts toward the formation of an all-embracing national government that can win Parliament’s confidence and carry out its duties, including overseeing the presidential election,” he said.

He accused the March 14 coalition of paralyzing Parliament’s work by boycotting its meetings and obstructing the formation of a new Cabinet by proposing a neutral or nonpartisan government, a proposal that has been rejected by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.

“They [March 14] are proposing the idea of a Cabinet that does not gain Parliament’s confidence with the aim of removing the caretaker Cabinet,” Qassem said.

“They don’t want to be in a national unity Cabinet or a partnership government based on the 9-9-6 [formula],” he added.

Qassem’s remarks came a day after Speaker Nabih Berri said he still considered the 9-9-6 government formula “a plausible and acceptable formula” that could break the Cabinet stalemate.

The 9-9-6 Cabinet formula, initially proposed by Berri as a way out of the political deadlock, calls for allotting nine ministerial portfolios to each of the March 8 and March 14 camps, whereas the remaining six portfolios would be those of the centrists. The centrists refer to Sleiman, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.

However, the 9-9-6 proposal has been rejected by the Future Movement and its March 14 allies.

Separately, Hezbollah has postponed a memorial ceremony for assassinated Hezbollah commander Hassan Hawlo Lakkis, scheduled for Sunday, to a later date because of the snowstorm currently lashing Lebanon, according to a statement issued by the group.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah was expected to speak on the occasion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 13, 2013, on page 3.
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