Sources close to Baabda Palace say that President Michel Sleiman is in a hurry to draft Cabinet’s policy statement and have the government gain a vote of confidence from Parliament before March 5, the date set for the International Support Group for Lebanon’s conference in Paris that Sleiman will be attending. The sources pointed to the importance of the aid promised to Lebanon to help it strengthen its constitutional and security institutions, deal with the increasing influx of Syrian refugees, and fight growing extremism and terrorism.
Sleiman is expected to hold a number of meetings in Paris, the most notable of which will be with French President Francois Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The discussions are expected to touch on the situation in the region as a whole, and in Lebanon specifically, in light of the recent formation of a new Cabinet.
The sources said that following the long political vacuum, the president’s main interest lies in reviving National Dialogue, especially in light of internal and regional indications that should facilitate the process.
Sources close to the presidential palace pointed out that the main goal behind reviving National Dialogue would be to calm the panic on the streets and allow for certain political tensions in the country to be vented. The sources added that all-embracing talks would not replace the work of constitutional institutions but would rather complement it.
Yet Sleiman is also aware that previous decisions have not been implemented, the sources say, including those on issues such as the presence of Palestinian arms outside the camps and the Baabda Declaration. This may prove problematic in terms of implementing any future decisions that may come about during dialogue.
The sources refuted the idea that the National Dialogue would become a political body with the purpose of managing an upcoming power vacuum.
The National Dialogue issue is to be handed to former Environment Minister Nazem Khoury, who will soon begin his work following up on various political files within the presidential palace, as Sleiman requested.
Khoury is heading up a specialized committee to consider the Dialogue question. In a statement to The Daily Star, he said the committee’s meetings were underway but that there was no official outcome yet. However, he added that all issues were close to being completed with regard to the drafting of the ministerial statement.
Khoury also spoke of the difficulty of completing the presidential elections while there are candidates from two very different political groups, adding that he feared a presidential vacuum.
One of the most important achievements in the political sphere at the moment is the completion of a 150-item administrative decentralization bill, the product of long research and discussions through a specially formed committee.
The committee, formed over a year ago, includes former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, former Interior Ministry Director-General Atallah Ghasham, former Director-General of Local and Municipal Councils and Administration at the Interior Ministry Khalil Hajal, legal adviser to the presidency Rayane Assaf, university professor Dr. Karam Karam, Lebanese Center for Policy Studies Director Prof. Sami Atallah, Lebanese University lecturer Dr. Noha Ghossainy, and Raymond Medlij, a lawyer and adviser to former Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. A ninth member, Othman Dalloul – an adviser to a former premier – has since died.
Sleiman plans to announce the text of the bill before the end of March. The legislation is considered a key part of reforming the Taif Accord, and a way to improve the work of state institutions and achieve national harmony.