BEIRUT: The Future Movement has launched a blistering campaign against MP Walid Jumblatt, accusing him of abandoning his centrist position and aligning himself fully with the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
The tension between the Future Movement and the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party is likely to further complicate the already stalled attempts to form a new Cabinet.
The newest setback comes two days after Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam sounded downbeat about forming a government soon, blaming “increased conditions” set by the rival political factions for the Cabinet deadlock, now in its seventh month.
“MP Jumblatt’s latest stances have put up new barriers in the way of forming a Cabinet,” Mohammad Shatah, a political adviser to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, head of the Future Movement, told The Daily Star.
“This is in addition to hurdles put up by the March 8 alliance with their demand for being represented in the Cabinet in proportion to their size in Parliament, their rejection of the rotation of [key] ministries, and upholding the tripartite equation,” Shatah said.
He was referring to Hezbollah’s insistence on the tripartite equation “the Army, the people and the Resistance,” contained in the policy statement of previous Cabinets, to remain in the new government’s ministerial statement.
The March 14 coalition, led by the Future Movement, has rejected this equation and called instead for the Baabda Declaration to be adopted as the new Cabinet’s policy statement.
Shatah said Jumblatt’s latest political stances on the Cabinet formation as well as the 30-month war in Syria have put him closer to the March 8 camp.
“Jumblatt is no longer in the centrist position. He is closer to the March 8 team,” he said.
In an interview with As-Safir newspaper Friday, Jumblatt voiced support for the March 8 alliance’s proposal for a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup, saying the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal had collapsed.
This was viewed as a major about-face because Jumblatt had initially proposed the 8-8-8 formula, with ministers equally divided between the March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists, as a way to break the Cabinet stalemate. The centrists refer to President Michel Sleiman, Salam and Jumblatt.
Jumblatt, a staunch supporter of the Syrian opposition against President Bashar Assad, said the March 14 parties, starting with Future MP Okab Saqr, had intervened in the Syrian conflict before Hezbollah did. He mentioned north Lebanon, which reportedly was used as a base to smuggle arms and send fighters to Syria to join rebel groups fighting to oust the Assad regime.
Shatah said that with Jumblatt’s new stance, the Future Movement was unlikely to accept the 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal because the PSP chief’s two ministers would be considered on the side of the March 8 camp.
“I don’t think that the Future Movement will accept the 9-9-6 formula because with Jumblatt’s new stance, it has become an 11-9-4 formula,” he said.
Al-Hayat newspaper quoted sources close to Salam as saying that difficulties facing the Cabinet formation had increased as a result of Jumblatt’s new stance when he insisted on the 9-9-6 formula and criticized the March 14 parties, blaming them for delaying the birth of the government.
Jumblatt’s remarks drew quick and fiery responses from two Future MPs, Ahmad Fatfat and Saqr. Fatfat said Jumblatt has abandoned his centrist position and aligned himself fully with Hezbollah.“Jumblatt’s vacillations have crossed all limits and are no longer acceptable. His centrist role is finished,” Fatfat said in a statement.
In an interview with the Saudi daily Ash-Sharq al-Awsat published Sunday, Fatfat said: “The PSP chief attacked the Syrian revolution and the March 14 parties, even though he fully knows who is the party that is obstructing the Cabinet formation. Jumblatt’s stances emanated from his interest. We are unable to keep abreast of him because of his constantly changing position.”
“With his stances, Jumblatt has expressed full commitment to an alliance with Hezbollah, while abandoning his centrist position,” he said. “We cannot say Jumblatt is a centrist while he has adopted Hezbollah’s stance.”
Saqr, who have been living out of Lebanon for years, lashed out at Jumblatt, accusing him of taking a major political turnaround on the Syrian conflict.
“Jumblatt, as part of his conflicting statements, has for some time been including my name in a repeated attempt to justify Iran’s and Hezbollah’s invasion of Syria,” Saqr said in a statement. “Therefore, we have to draw his attention that the political, media and humanitarian support we have provided [to the Syrian people] is the least humane duty toward a people being slaughtered every day.”
However, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and PSP sources denied any change in Jumblatt’s position.
“There is no change in any direction except in the firm direction of protecting stability and avoiding horrors in Lebanon,” Abu Faour, who belongs to Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said in a statement published by An-Nahar newspaper.
A senior PSP source rejected the argument that Jumblatt’s stance would further delay the Cabinet formation.
“Jumblatt’s latest stance does not amount to a turnaround or a new positioning. We are still in the position of protecting stability in the country,” the source said. “Facilitating the Cabinet formation is the responsibility of everyone.”
Indirectly responding to Salam’s sources that said that Jumblatt’s declaration has complicated the Cabinet formation, the source said: “The PSP’s rational and wise stance, which aims at protecting stability in the country, does not seek an obstruction of the Cabinet formation.”
He added: “The PSP’s position has from the beginning called for the formation of an all-embracing government in which all political parties are represented.”
“The PSP’s priority is to protect stability, and protecting stability cannot be attained by excluding any part from the government,” the source said, referring to a March 14 demand to exclude Hezbollah from the new Cabinet over its military intervention in Syria.
Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi said attempts to exclude his party from the next Cabinet were unconstitutional.
“Every attempt to deny the Resistance [Hezbollah] the right to be represented in the government is a violation of the Constitution,” Musawi told a gathering in the southern town of Al-Bayad.