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THURSDAY, 24 APR 2014
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President plans new-year talks on Cabinet formation
President Sleiman receives Patriarch Beshara Rai in Baabda, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
President Sleiman receives Patriarch Beshara Rai in Baabda, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman will launch serious contacts with rival parties early next year in a bid to help form a new Cabinet before the country enters a two-month constitutional period on March 25 to prepare for presidential elections, political sources said Sunday.

As the Cabinet crisis entered its ninth month with no solution in sight, MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party warned against forming a neutral government, saying such a move would take Lebanon into the “unknown” – a term that refers to a possible state of instability.

Sleiman, concerned that Lebanon might fall into a presidential vacuum when his six-year term expires on May 25, 2014, plans to consult with the country’s feuding parties with the aim of facilitating the Cabinet formation, the sources said.

The sources noted that Lebanon could not receive international aid to help it cope with more than 1 million Syrian refugees in the country unless it had a functioning government.

Despite tension with Hezbollah over the group’s military intervention in Syria, political and official sources said Sleiman was determined to open channels of communications with all parties – including Hezbollah.

For this purpose, the president will receive soon a high-level delegation from the Islamic party for talks on local developments, including the stalled Cabinet formation efforts, the sources said.

Sources close to Sleiman familiar with the Cabinet formation process said the setting up of a new government was governed by considerations related to three things: the Constitution, the 1943 National Pact on coexistence and the security situation.

First, the Constitution clearly states that when Sleiman signs the decrees accepting the resignation of the caretaker Cabinet and the formation of a new one, the latter is responsible for caretaker duties – even before seeking Parliament’s vote of confidence and before the country slides into a presidential vacuum, the sources said.

Therefore, such a Cabinet would be in conformity with the Constitution, the sources added.

Second, the Constitution’s preamble says a government that contradicts the coexistence pact is not legitimate. As a result, any Cabinet that does not include true representation of any of the sects, or if ministers belonging to a certain sect resigned, it would be difficult to regard this Cabinet as constitutionally and legally qualified to rule, the sources said.Third, the security consideration is related to the internal parties’ balance of power and the possible threats to the security situation. In other words, if certain parties decided to disturb security in Lebanon to protest the formation of a Cabinet, this would constitute pressures on those leading the process, namely Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, the sources said.

Despite speculation about the formation of a fait accompli government, the official sources said, the outcome of the ongoing contacts at the presidential and political levels pointed to strenuous efforts aimed at forming a Cabinet that can win Parliament’s confidence and be in conformity with the country’s National Pact.

The sources added that Sleiman and Salam would not impose a fait accompli government that did not take into account the importance of consensus and stability in this delicate stage in Lebanon’s history.

According to the sources, channels of communication are open between the Sleiman, Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri with the aim of overcoming obstacles in the way of forming a Cabinet.

Sleiman, contrary to what some might think, has not taken a hostile stance against Hezbollah, which is a main component of the Lebanese society, the sources said. Instead, the sources added, he has stressed the principles which he is obliged under the Constitution to stick to, including the need to respect the “Baabda Declaration” and nonintervention by any Lebanese party in the Syrian crisis.

Sleiman met Sunday with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai at Baabda Palace. They discussed the “general situation and national affairs,” the National News Agency said, without giving further details.

Meanwhile, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour said Jumblatt’s PSP would not join a neutral Cabinet which, he warned, would be “a leap into the unknown.”

“The PSP will not participate or cover any step that can represent a leap into the unknown politically, constitutionally and at the security level,” Abu Faour said during an organized dialogue with university students in the Western Bekaa region of Rashaya.

“Our decision and position as a party is that we support an all-embracing political government in which all the parties are represented for the interest of sitting together at the national partnership table in order to curb divisions and dangers.”

Abu Faour voiced fears that some options, such as a neutral Cabinet, that were being discussed, might be “a leap into the unknown” and could plunge the country into a security, political and constitutional vacuum.

His remarks came two days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah dismissed the March 14 coalition’s demand for a neutral government as an “act of deception.” Nasrallah also warned against forming a fait accompli government and reiterated March 8 calls for a national unity Cabinet.

Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi said a neutral Cabinet would run contrary to the Lebanese Constitution and the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War. He renewed March 8 calls for the formation of a 9-9-6 government as the only way to resolve the Cabinet crisis.

“A neutral Cabinet in Lebanon would violate the Taif Accord and the Lebanese Constitution because any government after the Taif Accord is one that represents the Lebanese political and social components,” Musawi told a rally in south Lebanon.

Separately, a senior European Union official criticized Nasrallah’s rejection of a neutral government, saying that Hezbollah and other parties should abide by the country’s disassociation policy on the war in Syria.

“I was astonished to hear yesterday [Friday] Nasrallah’s statement closing the door for the formation of a neutral government,” Elmar Brok, head of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, said during a joint news conference in Maarab Saturday after meeting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

“I hope that every political force in this country shows the responsibility for a plural and stable political system on the basis of the Constitution,” he added.

“As was agreed by the EU foreign ministers last Monday, all parties including Hezbollah should act responsibly and fully abide by the Baabda Declaration and Lebanon’s dissociation policy,” said Brok, who had also met with the country’s top three leaders.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 23, 2013, on page 1.
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