Lebanon News

Political, security minefield awaits Lebanon

File - Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri arrives at the National Dialogue session held at Baabda Palace, Lebanon, on Monday, June 25, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

During a quick discussion with a diplomat who had just ended an international tour three days ago, it was made clear that what he has seen abroad in terms of the atmosphere regarding the situation in the region and Lebanon was extremely foggy.

This shocked him because the critical stage the Middle East is going through requires relevant states to have already developed their plan and strategies, taking into account all possibilities. This is especially true given the state of confusion toward the management of a number of files.

One such file is Geneva II, which after its failure is likely to lead to a return to the gaming field ahead of Syrian elections in June.

Another fact is the U.S. failure to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, which released a statement Wednesday saying that it would begin manufacturing two new reactors with Russia. This has collided with U.S. efforts to bring about Palestinian-Israeli talks amid Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rigid stance and his placing of impossible conditions ahead of chances for peace with the Palestinians.

Amid the regional turmoil, political sources following up on the dispute over the resistance clause in the ministerial policy statement say there has been a collapse of trust between Lebanese political groups. They anticipate that Lebanon is facing a minefield from now until the presidential election, both from the political and the security perspective, as the country faces the possibility of entering a long caretaker period if efforts to agree on either the “resistance” or the “government” clause fail and the government is unable to gain a vote of confidence in Parliament.

The sources said the latest calls between key political powers reflected a clear concern over the upcoming presidential election and the possible lack thereof due to a lack of agreement between local and foreign powers.

Foreign diplomatic powers are putting strong pressure on Lebanese politicians, a reflection of the fears of a possible constitutional vacuum that a caretaker Cabinet would not be able to fill.

Most Western powers’ representatives in Lebanon are stressing the importance of completing the procedures in order to keep the international conferences for Lebanon going, the latest of which was last week’s International Support Group for Lebanon meeting in Paris. However, the sources said the representatives fear Lebanon may reach the election date without enough guarantees to maintain its stability.

In light of all this, there is a push toward drafting the ministerial statement before its deadline next Monday at midnight, according to Speaker Nabih Berri.

However, given the failing efforts to provide a solution to the ministerial statement, the spotlight has fallen on the Constitution and what it says should happen if the government does not carry out its mission within 30 days from its formation. According to the second paragraph of Article 64: “The government should present its ministerial statement to Parliament to gain a vote of confidence 30 days from the date of its formation, and the government should not exercise its powers before gaining [a vote of] confidence nor after its resignation or it being considered resigned, except in the narrow sense of caretaker.”

This article does not mention any punitive measures if the government does not fulfill its duties. And along with other enigmatic articles from the Taif Accord, leaves the door wide open for interpretation.

Some legal experts believe that missing the 30-day deadline would turn the Cabinet into a caretaker government, while others say that as no punishment is mentioned the deadline is simply meant to push the committee to finalize the ministerial statement.

One of the legal experts said the article had a time limit so ministers would work fast and not waste any time or make delays, and that since it does not specify that the Cabinet should resign, the most likely hypothesis is that the time limit was set to push the government to complete its duties.

Another relevant part of the Constitution, Article 69, also does not point to the government having to resign in case the ministerial statement was not drafted, reinforcing the notion that the time limit was meant to hasten work, although this does not mean the deadline is open-ended.

One law expert, however, believes there is something more dangerous waiting for the country than the legal ambiguities if premier Tammam Salam’s government is unable to draft a ministerial statement, does not manage to gain a vote of confidence and the presidential polls do not take place.

It is a question of validity, the expert said. For who will then be in power in the country, the current government which did not receive a vote of confidence, or that of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati which did?

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




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