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March 8 fears Sleiman will form ‘confrontation government’
President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai during Christmas Day Mass in Bkirki, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalatinohra-HO)
President Michel Sleiman and Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai during Christmas Day Mass in Bkirki, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalatinohra-HO)
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As the 9-month-old Cabinet stalemate drags on with no solution in sight, Hezbollah and its allies have voiced fears that President Michel Sleiman is inclined to form “a confrontation government” – a March 8 term for a fait accompli Cabinet.

Referring to Sleiman’s statement after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki on Christmas Day Wednesday in which he hinted at the plausibility of forming a fait accompli Cabinet, March 8 parliamentary sources said the president’s remarks amounted to a response to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah. They added that this made Sleiman a party to political disputes, rather than an arbitrator among political factions.

Last week, the Hezbollah leader warned against forming a fait accompli government.

Sleiman, who stressed in Bkirki the need to respect the Constitution and democracy, had forgotten that Cabinet formation requires a consensus with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, or at least that Salam’s opinion on the matter should be taken into account, the sources said.

One source said that any Cabinet lineup without prior approval of the March 8 parties could not be acceptable to them, even if it included figures who are known and respected by these parties, especially since there is a tendency to name ministers without consulting them.

The same source said there was nothing new in Sleiman’s statement, except a repetition of what had been reported in newspapers about the intentions of the president and the prime minister-designate concerning the identity and composition of the next Cabinet.

A Cabinet lineup unacceptable to March 8 parties would further complicate the political deadlock and spark a new crisis, one source said.

The source described such a Cabinet as an “adventure” which the current political situation in Lebanon could not endure.

The March 8 parliamentary sources said that Lebanon needed steps to defuse political tensions and the formation of a Cabinet to deal with the economic, political and security problems, as well as confront the Israeli enemy over offshore oil boundaries and deal with the repercussions of the war in Syria.

“If they want to form a Cabinet that does not represent the will of politicians, in whose name will it govern? Can Lebanon endure to be a testing field?” one source said. The source warned of the consequences of forming a Cabinet that would be unacceptable to the March 8 parties.

“What is happening in the country is not governed only by laws and the Constitution, but by understanding among political parties which is the basis for administering the country’s affairs,” the source said.

Referring to the monthslong paralysis in Parliament as a result of March 14 lawmakers’ boycott of legislative sessions under a resigned Cabinet, a March 8 source said that the current situation in Lebanon was one of obstruction.

“Those who are obstructing political life are known. Why are they paralyzing Parliament’s activity? Tackling people’s affairs through the approval of draft laws in Parliament is as important as the presidential election,” the source said.

“Lebanon is headed toward a major crisis, even though we had hoped for a breakthrough in the crisis,” the source said.

Meanwhile, March 14 parliamentary sources have voiced their support for any step taken by Sleiman and Salam to form a new Cabinet in line with the Constitution and the laws in force.

While Sleiman has given enough time for the rival factions to reach an agreement on the Cabinet formation, one source said: “The president cannot sit and see the country go toward the unknown.”

The source feared that the March 8 side’s plan was to prevent the formation of a Cabinet and cause a vacuum in the presidency as a prelude to changing the current political system on the ground. The source said the plan dovetailed with awaited changes in the region that would impose a change in Lebanon in which the Christians would emerge as losers.

The March 14 sources stressed that given the need to respect the Constitution and constitutional deadlines, a new Cabinet should be formed as soon as possible because the current situation, if left unchecked, would lead to further complication and a power vacuum.

Referring to the March 14 demand for forming a neutral, nonpartisan government, the sources insisted that members of political parties should be excluded from any Cabinet because a nonpartisan government would oversee the transitional period until the presidential election scheduled in May.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 27, 2013, on page 3.
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