BEIRUT: Parliament is set to begin discussing the government’s policy statement Wednesday, with the Cabinet certain to win a vote of confidence despite expectations of a number of fiery speeches during the two-day session.
Parliamentary sources told The Daily Star that more than 100 lawmakers out of 128 were likely to give the government a vote of confidence. It is the first time Parliament is meeting since it extended its term for 17 months last May.
Meanwhile, the Kataeb Party announced that its three ministers would not resign from the government after President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Tammam Salam clarified to them the policy statement’s clause on the state’s authority to defend Lebanon.
“We call on Kataeb ministers to go ahead with the political confrontation from inside the government, reflecting the aspirations of the party and a large segment of the Lebanese,” said a statement issued after a special meeting for Kataeb’s political bureau.
The statement said the party would adopt Sleiman and Salam’s explanation of the policy statement.
The U-turn comes after the Kataeb Party Saturday threatened to withdraw its ministers from Salam’s government unless the “dangerous ambiguity” over the state’s authority was resolved.
The current policy statement emphasizes the “right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repulse its attacks and recover occupied territories.” It also stresses the state’s responsibility in liberating lands still occupied by Israel.
The Kataeb Party has called for Hezbollah’s resistance actions to be placed under the state’s authority.
Prior to the announcement that they would be staying in the government, party leader Amine Gemayel and a Kataeb delegation visited Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
Addressing the delegation, Sleiman stressed that the policy statement “emphasizes state authority in all political affairs, particularly in the issue of defending Lebanon and liberating occupied Lebanese territories, and pinpoints this clearly in several clauses.”
The president said the policy statement clauses on state authority converged with comments in his inaugural address in May 2008 that the state should embrace everybody.
He said that it was also consistent with the Baabda Declaration and the national defense strategy he proposed, which emphasizes the state’s authority and its right to benefit from all legitimate national capabilities. The Kataeb statement said Sleiman made the same assurances to Gemayel Monday.
A source from Baabda Palace said Sleiman would invite the country’s rival leaders for a National Dialogue session after he returns from Kuwait, where he will attend the Arab summit scheduled for March 25 and 26.
“But the date for the session has yet to be set,” the source said, requesting to remain anonymous.
The source added that none of the political parties had said they would boycott Dialogue in case an invitation was made, adding, “The atmosphere is positive so far.”
The session would exclusively discuss the national defense strategy, the source said.
The last Dialogue session was held in November 2012 when Sleiman proposed a national defense strategy that would place Hezbollah’s arms under the control of the Lebanese Army.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc highlighted the importance of the new government’s policy statement, particularly the absence of the “Army, people and resistance” clause that was seen to legitimize Hezbollah’s arsenal.
A statement by the bloc after its regular meeting voiced hope that Hezbollah would commit to implementing the policy statement.
Separately, Speaker Nabih Berri chaired a meeting for his parliamentary bloc at his Ain al-Tineh residence which discussed the policy statement ahead of Wednesday’s session.
At the beginning of the Parliament session, Salam will read the government’s policy statement, which will then be debated over the coming two days. At the end of discussions, the Cabinet will be put to a vote of confidence.
Thirty MPs have so far asked to speak during the session, including former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, although this does not include any heads of parliamentary blocs.
The parliamentary sources did not rule out the possibility of heated discussions during the session, particularly over the policy statement’s controversial resistance issue and the fact that both the March 8 and March 14 coalitions have presented the clause as it best suits them.
Lebanese Forces MPs told The Daily Star that their bloc would attend the session and that they would reiterate their opposition to the policy statement and reiterate their belief that Hezbollah’s ultimate goal was to take control of the state.
LF MPs and Chouf MP Marwan Hamade are expected to give the government a vote of no confidence.
It is still unclear how Mikati and Future bloc MP Mohammad Kabbara will vote.