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Hezbollah keeps up verbal barrage against Sleiman
President Michel Sleiman speaks at a ceremony at Baabda Palace on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (The Daily Star/DalatiNohra)
President Michel Sleiman speaks at a ceremony at Baabda Palace on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (The Daily Star/DalatiNohra)
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BEIRUT: The March 8 coalition Sunday kept up its verbal campaign against President Michel Sleiman, with Hezbollah warning that any attempt to form a fait accompli government would threaten the country’s stability.

The March 8 political escalation against Sleiman was laced with rejection of any bid to extend the president’s six-year term in office when it expires on May 25, 2014.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies rejected the March 8 demand for the formation of a 9-9-6 Cabinet, reiterating its call for a neutral, nonpartisan government to oversee next year’s presidential polls.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, urged Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from Syria in order to restore national unity. “We call for the formation of a transitional nonpartisan government,” Siniora told a March 14 rally in the northern city of Tripoli.

In what appeared to be coordinated attacks, Hezbollah’s caretaker Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish and other party officials warned Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam of the consequences of forming a fait accompli Cabinet and renewed the March 8 demand for a national unity government based on the 9-9-6 lineup.

“The talk about the formation of a fait accompli government is harmful and would face many obstacles,” Fneish said during a ceremony in the southern city of Sidon. He advised those entertaining the idea not to make “a big mistake.”

Declaring that it is not possible to a form a government unless it was “a partnership Cabinet,” Fneish said: “The 9-9-6 Cabinet formula is the minimum formula ... We did not ask for our true representation and have accepted to be partners to the bare minimum. But any talk, justification or pretext to impose a fait accompli Cabinet is rejected.”

He added that the Hezbollah-led March alliance rejected the argument that the current Cabinet of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati could not exercise presidential duties if the presidential election was not held on time.

In an implicit rejection of attempts to extend Sleiman’s mandate, Fneish said efforts should be geared toward the election of a new president, warning that a fait accompli Cabinet would delay the presidential vote.

“We repeat our call for benefiting from the remaining time to form a national partnership Cabinet based on the minimum 9-9-6 formula with the participation of the main political factions,” Fneish said. “Any step other than a partnership Cabinet would threaten stability. Our responsibility is to preserve stability. This is in the interests of all the Lebanese.”

Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have been demanding a 9-9-6 Cabinet in which both the March 8 and March 14 camps would enjoy veto power.

Fneish’s comments come a day after Salam said that a fait accompli Cabinet was constitutional and would become a caretaker government if it failed to garner Parliament’s vote of confidence.

“When a government is formed, it becomes constitutional given that it is formed with the president’s signatures on decrees accepting the former Cabinet’s resignation, the designation [of a new PM] decree, the decree to form a government and the ministerial lineup,” Salam told Al-Joumhouria newspaper.

“After the president signs the decrees, the Cabinet lineup is referred to Parliament for a vote of confidence,” he said. If the lineup fails to secure a majority, Cabinet would automatically become a caretaker government, he said. Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem called for the formation of “a partnership government.” He said the March 14 parties were unable to form a Cabinet of their own without the March 8 parties. Qassem also said Hezbollah was ready to cooperate with the March 14 coalition for the election of a new president.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for electing a new “suitable” president capable of facing challenges in Lebanon. “Fear not the hard work and relentless pursuit at the domestic, regional and international levels to hold the presidential election within the constitutional deadline,” he said during his Sunday sermon.

The Cabinet stalemate, political and security developments in the country as well as the Syrian refugee crisis were discussed during a meeting at Baabda Palace between MP Walid Jumblatt and Sleiman Saturday.

Separately, Sleiman left Sunday for Paris in what a Baabda Palace source said was for a follow-up medical treatment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 16, 2013, on page 1.
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