BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri ruled out Monday any political party wielding veto power in the future Cabinet which he said needed to be short-term to oversee this year’s presidential election.
During a television interview, Hariri defended his decision to take part in an all-embracing Cabinet with Hezbollah, saying his motive stemmed from a deep desire to contain the increasing repercussions on Lebanon from the Syria crisis.
“There is no veto power in this government, thus ensuring that [March 8 ministers] cannot resign and force its collapse ... but if they do then they bear that responsibility,” Hariri said in the rare televised appearance.
Hariri’s nascent Cabinet came to an end in early 2011 after ministers in the March 8 alliance resigned over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a U.N.-backed probing the assassination of Hariri’s father in Beirut years earlier. Five Hezbollah suspects have been indicted in the case so far.
“If I want to think with my heart then I will never sit on the same table with [the March 8 group] but I must be wise for the sake of the country just like Rafik Hariri did,” the head of the Future Movement said.
“My participation in the government is aimed at containing the conflict ... the people want to live, they want to have electricity, water, and a decent economy as the country faces bombings and explosions without a government to help us transition to the presidential election,” he added.
Hariri admitted his decision to go ahead with joining a Cabinet with his March 8 rivals was a “political risk” for him.
“I could have taken a different stance, put my foot down and said no to a Cabinet with Hezbollah. I would have gained popularity but I out Lebanon’s interest before my own personal, political ones,” he said.
Hariri, who has been out of the country for three years due to security concerns, said his participation in the government would not alter his opposition to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria or the group’s arsenal.
Hariri also ruled out keeping in the government’s policy statement Hezbollah’s “Army, people and resistance,” an equation adopted by previous governments seen as providing political legitimacy to the Lebanese resistance group.
"I outright reject any mention, no matter how vague, to tripartite formula. I will never compromise on this matter,” Hariri, who stressed that his party’s participation in the next Cabinet would not provide cover for Hezbollah, said.
He also noted that he made the decision to join the government after Hezbollah dropped its demand for veto power and the Future Movement received positive answers to questions it posed on points of difference.
“We have fundamental differences with March 8, particularly with Hezbollah: we are against veto power in the Cabinet, against the tripartite formula but we are with the rotation of ministerial portfolios and the Baabda Declaration,” he said.
The March 14 coalition has called for adopting the Baabda Declaration – a pact among rival Lebanese political leaders to distance Lebanon from the crisis in Syria – in the future government’s ministerial statement as well as the removal of the clause dealing with the divisive defense formula.
Hariri said Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s government would oversee the presidential election which he said should be held on time.
“This government will last between three to four months until the presidential elections so it’s a transitional Cabinet,” he told Future TV.
Declining to name a candidate to replace President Michel Sleiman whose six-year term expires on May 25, Hariri said the March 14 alliance would nominate one of its own for the top post in the country.
"We want a strong president who does not accept foreign dictations and will be from the March 14 coalition,” Hariri said.
Although Hariri’s allies in the March 14 group have said they would not join a government with Hezbollah, the former prime minister insisted the Western-backed coalition remained strong.
"We have an open dialogue with our allies [in the March 14 alliance] in which we inform them of the steps we are taking and the reasons behind them,” he said.
"Only death can separate me from my allies in the March 14 coalition,” he said.
He also downplayed any differences in the political grouping that was spawned in the aftermath of his father’s assassination in 2005. Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s killing spurred mass protests throughout Lebanon calling for the end of Syria’s military presence in the country.
“We might have differences [in the March 14 coalition] but there is no separation,” Saad Hariri said.
While stressing the strong bonds between him and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, Hariri urged his longtime ally to reconsider his stance over the Cabinet formation process.
"I urge Samir Geagea to reconsider his position on this issue [the Cabinet] because we all have our concerns,” he said.
"But no one should think that I will abandon Samir Geagea or vice versa and our position is the same,” Hariri said.
Hariri blamed Hezbollah for the series of bombings in the country that have killed dozens of people including former Minister Mohammad Shatah, saying the threat of takfiris was manufactured by President Bashar Assad.
“The reason behind the turbulence in Lebanon is because someone decided to save the regime and [Sayyed Hasan] Nasrallah confirmed it himself when he said that Assad would have fallen if Hezbollah didn’t get involved,” Hariri said.
Hezbollah announced in May of 2013 it was fighting alongside regime forces in Syria in what it said was a preemptive move to counter the rise of takfiri forces that the resistance group said threatens Lebanon.
Hariri challenged Hezbollah’s reasoning for its involvement in the Syria crisis, saying: “The fighting in Syria has been going on for three years. The first year was peaceful and then it turned violent. Bombings in Lebanon only began a few months after Hezbollah made the decision to go to Syria.”
He also said that Hezbollah should withdraw from Syria given that the Free Syrian Army was combating radical groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).
“So, Hezbollah should now make its way back to Lebanon,” Hariri said.
“ Hezbollah should recognize that the oppressor in Damascus [Assad] does not want any good to happen to either Hezbollah or Lebanon,” he added, accusing the Syrian president of celebrating at the deteriorating situation in Lebanon.
Asked about the participation of Sunni fighters in the crisis in Syria, Hariri said: “I am against any Lebanese who goes off to fight in Syria.”