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Lebanon News

Presidential election tops the agenda

File - President Michel Sleiman, left, receives Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam in Baabda, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

It appears that forming a government is no longer a priority for concerned parties, as the issue has been shelved to make way for the presidential election, which is getting a lot of publicity.

The government formation has moved off the top of the agenda after triggering an 11-month political stalemate; passivity on the part of Speaker Nabih Berri; and much frustration for MP Walid Jumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Movement, and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.

Political sources said that relevant parties were no longer publically declaring the need to link the government formation to the presidential election.

The March 8 bloc is meticulous when it comes to getting what it wants concerning the formation of the new government, since the absence of a new Cabinet and the caretaker status of the current one actually works to the group’s advantage.

For its part, the March 14 bloc is steadfastly holding on to its conditions for the new government since it is convinced that forming the next Cabinet lineup will be impossible without its participation and has, in this way, stalled any development on the matter by reserving consent.

In this regard, sources close to the issue said that talks between the international community and local officials concerning the situation in Lebanon no longer dwell on the subject of the government formation, and officials are now discussing a package deal similar to that of the 2008 Doha Accord, which encompasses both the government formation and the presidential election, as well as a new electoral law, since parliamentary elections are supposed to take place before November.

According to the sources, the “form” of the government will not be decided upon until details surrounding the presidential election become clearer. With respect to the latter, there are two ostensible options on the table. If the forthcoming president is agreed upon during current talks then the caretaker government will function for three more months until presidential elections are held.

If the forthcoming president is not identified through talks, an inevitability that could have dire consequences for the political and security situation in the region, then efforts to create a national unity government to assume the president’s powers during the three- to six-month vacuum will ensue.

Touching on this issue, sources said that a national unity government to primarily manage the country’s affairs, in the absence of a president, would be formed with no conditions in place in terms of ministerial rotation, because the foundation of said government would be consensual as Change and Reform bloc MP Michel Aoun positions would be supported by the March 8 group.

According to those same sources, once the March 14 bloc, and the Future Movement that leads the coalition, is certain that presidential elections will be postponed, they will once again act for the smooth formation of a national unity government, as the coalition did when they supported the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup.

The numerous visits made by ambassadors as well as the meetings held outside of Lebanon could have materialized into the 8-8-8 Cabinet, were it not for the political miscalculation of a certain March 8 party, which did not consider the implications of Aoun not engaging in consultations over the lineup, a source said.

Sources said that it would not be surprising if such an option were pursued if the presidential elections were postponed and that managing the vacuum with a balanced government made up of March 8 and March 14 candidates, as well as independents, would be inevitable.

Diplomatic officials and political figures have expressed interest in the emerging dialogue between Aoun and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which has largely played out in the media.

If the stances of Hariri and the Future Movement change slightly to be in sync with efforts to remove the obstacles hindering the Cabinet formation, particularly the rotation of ministerial portfolios, this will surely affect the relationship between Future and Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc.

But if the Future Movement maintains its current position, then the nascent talks with Aoun’s bloc will not pave the way for a positive outcome.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 13, 2014, on page 3.
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