BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman hinted Monday he could approve the formation of a fait accompli Cabinet if political consensus over a new government fails to materialize, in a challenge to Hezbollah which insists on a national unity government.
“In case there isn’t a consensus on a [national] unity Cabinet, do we stay without a government? Would a consensus on a government necessarily reflect national consensus?” Sleiman asked.
“How long can a president keep on rejecting Cabinet formulas suggested by the prime minister-designate who was nominated by 124 lawmakers and how long can the delay go on?” he asked.
Sleiman also rejected the argument that non-political partisans were unable to form a government.
“Are the Lebanese who do not belong to any [political group] not allowed to take part in reviving the country? Do such people harm the consensus in Lebanon?” he asked.
Sleiman has in the past hinted he would move ahead with the formation of a fait accompli government in order to end the nine-month deadlock over the formation of the next government.
Hezbollah, which heads the March 8 coalition that is calling for a national unity cabinet, has ruled out the formation of a neutral Cabinet made up of non-partisans, a demand by the March 14 alliance.
March 8 figures have slammed the idea of a neutral Cabinet, saying the Constitution, following the Taif Accord, forbade such a government.
Despite indicating his readiness to form a non-partisan government, Sleiman said political rivals still have a chance to reach a consensus over the future government.
“The door for consultations is still open and political rivals still have a chance to reach a unifying [Cabinet] formula with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam,” he said.
Sleiman spoke at a ceremony marking the renovation of the Chamber of Trade, Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Beirut. Attendees included Salam, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Muhammad Shukeir, the head of the chamber, and other officials and economic figures.
In an apparent swipe at Speaker Nabih Berri, Sleiman also rejected attributing the delay in the formation of the government to the election of the next president.
“Is the formation of the government [dependent] on the election of a president? No, citizens are smarter than that and they know how [some political groups resort to] obstruction,” Sleiman said.
In comments to As-Safir, Berri said he would be in favor of moving forward the presidential election in a bid to alley any concerns the March 14 alliance might have over the cabinet formation.
“In order to assure [March 14 groups] that our intentions are good, we do not mind holding the presidential election from now,” Berri told the daily.
“Subsequently, there will no problem over the formation of a [new] government,” Berri said, noting that the precedent had occurred in 1970 when President Suleiman Franjieh was elected a few months before the constitutional deadline for the presidential election.
Sleiman also asked “whether keeping the country without a new Cabinet and maintaining the resigned government, the [resignation] decrees to which I signed, secure the election of the president before May 25 or vice versa?”
The presidential election is due on May 25. Sleiman has repeatedly said he is against any extension to his mandate.
The president also dismissed suggestions that the recent support of Saudi Arabia to the Lebanese Army meant Riyadh backed extending his term in office or sought a Cabinet formula to its liking.
“Is it reasonable to believe that the initiatives of support to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia and the International Support Group to Lebanon and soon Italy aim at the extension [of the president’s term] or is a bargain of some kind to have a Cabinet of a certain form or side?” he asked.
“[Does it make sense] that these states need the extension of the president’s term or a certain Cabinet [in Lebanon] to secure their own stability?” he asked.
Saudi Arabia pledged last week $3 billion to buy arms for the Lebanese Army from France, a donation that the president described as the biggest grant ever for the military in Lebanon’s history.
The president also said that Lebanon was facing “several challenges, including the Syrian refugee crisis” and urged the Lebanese to “intensify efforts to preserve security, confront terrorist operations, calm down the political rhetoric, in line with the Baabda Declaration.”