BEIRUT: Lebanon's newly formed coalition government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam easily won a vote of confidence in parliament Thursday, after two days of often heated exchanges between lawmakers over Hezbollah's arsenal and its role in Syria.
Officials said 96 MPs of the 128-member chamber backed the Cabinet after a lengthy debate over its proposed policy statement. The voting session was attended by 101 MPs, four voted no-confidence while a fifth abstained.
Several lawmakers missed the two-day debate either on security grounds or due to travel outside Lebanon.
“We will not promise anything the government will not be able to fulfill. No one should expect miracles,” Salam told parliament just before the vote. “We will do all we can to deal with the urgent priorities in the time available for us."
Salam said the government's main task is damage limitation: “We live in very difficult time inside Lebanon and around it."
Speeches during the debate were wide-ranging as parliamentarians took advantage of the opportunity to air their grievances with the state of the country and their political rivals.
Akkar MP Khaled Daher caused a stir when he took the podium to accuse the Army of double standards in dealing with armed groups.
"The shabiha in Tripoli are being supported by Army Intelligence officers while one of my bodyguards was arrested near my home without being guilty of anything," he said, using the word for Syrian paramilitary gangs. Tripoli has been wracked by fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Speaker Nabih Berri reprimanded Daher, telling him “Your army is righteous, even if it is unjust." "I am willing to address the issue outside Parliament with you but leave the matter for later,” Berri said.
MP Ahmed Fatfat, of the Future Parliamentary bloc, used his address to suggest Prime Minister Najib Mikati was to blame for the deteriorating situation in the country.
“We heard a former prime minister and lawmakers criticizing the dark picture in the country; who is responsible for this dark picture? Who took part in the government after the black shirt coup?” he said in reference to Hezbollah's withdrawal from the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in 2011.
“He [Mikati] is the first to be held responsible for the deterioration of the security, economy and political situation in the country,” Fatfat said.
Salam also intervened, saying that security and military agencies should be held accountable if they make mistakes.
“However, we should keep them separate from our political differences,” he said.
Fatfat’s criticism drew a sharp retort from Mikati, who defended the performance of his government.
“My government did the best it could do; I did not want to get in such a debate but I should recall that when my government was formed, the indictment had not been issued yet,” he said, referring to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The court has indicted five members of Hezbollah in the case of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
Mikati also said that when he resigned, Hezbollah was not yet taking part in Syria battles.
“Let the citizens decide which government covers up for those fighting outside Lebanon,” said Mikati.
For his part, Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel did not mince words when discussing the new government and its policy statement.
“This is a government of contradictions and its policy statement is full of contradictions,” Gemayel said. “It has become a crime for a Lebanese lawmaker to insist on referring to the authority of the state in the policy statement.”
Gemayel also criticized Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria, saying “we are no longer living a country but in a jungle.”
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan announced he would not grant the cabinet his vote of confidence, saying that his party does not want a “verbal compromise.”
“Trying to cover up divisions [within the country] with a verbal statement or flowery expressions will not lead to the desired solution,” he said. “We don't want Hezbollah’s arms to be part of the equation of the Lebanese state; we only want them to be used to fight Israel.”
Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah defended his party, saying “if not for the resistance, there wouldn't have been a state.”
A total of 35 MPs spoke for 15 hours during the two day session.