Sources familiar with the negotiations over the Cabinet formation describe the prospects facing these efforts as “murky, leaning toward dark.”
Informed sources say President Michel Sleiman tried hard to convince the March 8 and 14 political blocs to enter a national unity government without preconditions. Such a Cabinet would make its decisions through consensus, and its guarantors would be the “centrists” – Sleiman, premier-designate Tammam Salam and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt.
Sleiman’s efforts have so far only served to highlight the schism and lack of trust between the factions spanning Lebanon’s political divide, but such a rift must be bridged if Lebanon is to shield itself from the fallout of the crisis across the border in Syria.
Cabinet efforts remain stalled amid an ongoing political and security crisis, with little prospect for agreement as Syria continues to grapple with a two-and-a-half-year-long uprising.
The sources say that under the current conditions, there are few options before Lebanon’s politicians. The first is that both sides accept the guarantor role of the centrist factions, forming a government that harmoniously handles the nation’s internal affairs and deals with vital economic, social and security issues.
Another possibility is to rebuild confidence between the rival political factions and form what the sources call a “trust” government. The third option is to continue with no functioning government for the foreseeable future, with all political factions shouldering responsibility for the resulting vacuum, whose dangers will only increase as presidential elections draw near.
Sources point to the damage that has already beset Lebanon as a result of the absence of a government, in particular the strike last week by businesses throughout the country in protest at the nation’s dysfunctional politics.
They said that such measures, and the damage they inflict on the national economy, cannot be ignored, particularly if Cabinet formation efforts continue to march on without result.
Centrist political sources highlighted recent statements by Salam calling on political factions to put forth proposals and visions for a Cabinet that can deal with the sensitive situation facing Lebanon.
They said that March 14 political factions had recently dropped some preconditions for participation in the new Cabinet, particularly those pertaining to Hezbollah’s participation in it, a development that mildly improved prospects.
The possibility of an American-led military strike on Syria has also highlighted the need to secure Lebanon internally through the formation of a national unity government, the sources said, expressing concern over the impact of an American military intervention on Lebanon and the region.
But the Cabinet formation efforts faced another obstacle, as the March 8 political bloc rejected a proposed 8-8-8 Cabinet formula that would give all sides, including centrists, an equal share in the government.
The bloc informed Sleiman and Salam that they prefer a 9-9-6 formula, which would mean diminished influence for the centrists, arguing that this better reflects their shares in the country’s Parliament.
Sleiman and Salam both rejected the proposal.