BEIRUT

Lebanon News

New government might emerge within days

File - Premier-designate Tammam Salam appears during the Arab Women Forum's conference in the Four Seasons hotel in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

A new government could be announced early next week following an agreement between the March 8 and March 14 political blocs and the president.

Sources close to the presidential palace said one of the reasons for the delay in the Cabinet formation was that President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam were still trying to convince the March 14 bloc, particularly the Future Movement, to hand over the Interior Ministry portfolio to a candidate outside the coalition who could gain Hezbollah’s approval.

The aim of the talks was to find a way to ensure political support for the government Sleiman and Salam intend to form.

It has also become clear that the government will most probably be a fait accompli Cabinet, with eight ministers for the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, as well as centrists.

It is expected that the Change and Reform bloc will ask current Cabinet members not to hand over their portfolios to newly appointed ministers, unless a dramatic political recalculation occurs and parties change their current stances – that is, unless Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun accepts the rotation of key ministerial portfolios or the president, prime minister-designate and March 14 abandon the notion of rotation and grant Aoun the Energy Ministry.

The same sources also said they were sure ministers aligned with Hezbollah, the Tashnag party and the Marada Movement as well as the Free Patriotic Movement would announce their resignation as soon as the new government was formed.

But sources close to the Change and Reform bloc said they were unsure whether Aoun’s allies were in agreement over his decision to refuse to hand over his ministries.

Another obstacle in the way of the new government, assuming that Aoun and his allies do not manage to convince other ministers to resign, is the question of whether the Cabinet should be one that respects the National Pact, ensuring power sharing between Muslims and Christians.

Political sources said such a decision would be made primarily by Speaker Nabih Berri.

If the speaker believes the resignation of ministers affiliated with the Change and Reform bloc, Tashnag and Marada would strip the government of Christian representation, then he would consider it to be illegitimateon the grounds it violates the National Pact, and would not allow the new government list to reach Parliament for a vote of confidence.

However, if Berri does not consider the new government to be in violation of the National Pact, there is a possibility that the new Cabinet lineup will get a vote of confidence from Parliament because the March 14 bloc and Jumblatt’s ministers can deliver the required votes.

But sources well informed about the latest talks on the government’s formation indicated that both Sleiman and Salam were working to get political cover from Berri for the new Cabinet, even if the speaker asks his ministers to resign.

Those same sources also believe that such an option is the most likely scenario because of an understanding between Berri and head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt to avoid a fallout.

Parliamentary sources within the Change and Reform bloc said that Hezbollah will not complicate matters beyond asking its ministers to resign, and will not be irritated if a caretaker government replaces the resigned Cabinet of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati to manage the country’s affairs until it is clear whether a presidential election will be held.

Aoun, on the other hand, wants to prevent a new government from being formed altogether.

If Aoun manages to convince another minister to resign, or convinces his ally Hezbollah that the newly formed government violates the National Pact, tensions will surely rise in the political arena.

Sources said Aoun was also worried that Berri’s ministers would wait until a Cabinet was formed before they submitted their resignations.

According to the Constitution, if the newly formed government is forced to resign, the president would then be obliged to appoint another political official to form a new government. Therefore, if Salam’s Cabinet fails, Lebanon will be administered by yet another caretaker government.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 07, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

A new government could be announced early next week following an agreement between the March 8 and March 14 political blocs and the president.

However, if Berri does not consider the new government to be in violation of the National Pact, there is a possibility that the new Cabinet lineup will get a vote of confidence from Parliament because the March 14 bloc and Jumblatt's ministers can deliver the required votes.

But sources well informed about the latest talks on the government's formation indicated that both Sleiman and Salam were working to get political cover from Berri for the new Cabinet, even if the speaker asks his ministers to resign.

Aoun, on the other hand, wants to prevent a new government from being formed altogether.


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