BEIRUT: The government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati is poised to face a host of challenges in the coming months, the most important of which is Hezbollah’s position on the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s indictment, which accused four party members of involvement in the 2005 assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri and issued arrest warrants for them.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has rejected the June 30 indictment, vowing never to turn over the four accused. Hezbollah’s position at least publicly contradicts with that of Mikati who has promised that his government will cooperate with the STL and apprehend the suspects if they are in Lebanon.
Another challenge facing the government is Tuesday’s roadside bomb attack that wounded five French U.N. peacekeepers on the coastal highway in the southern city of Sidon and the difficulty of finding the bombers with the speed with which Paris is demanding from the Lebanese government.
September is the month during which the government is supposed to debate the 2011 draft state budget, an issue that could trigger a heated debate if not a split within Mikati’s 30-member Cabinet. One group, led by Mikati, supports the idea that the government fulfill Lebanon’s financial obligations to the STL, while another group wants the tribunal to take Lebanon’s share of the STL’s costs from former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora who had approved the agreement to establish the tribunal in breach of the constitution and laws as Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun claimed after last week’s meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc. Aoun is backed in this position by Hezbollah.
But on Aug. 12, the STL’s deadline to the Lebanese government to carry out the arrest warrants against the four Hezbollah suspects expires. On the basis of the government’s response, the STL will decide whether to publish the indictment, whose contents could enhance divisions among the parties inside the Cabinet.
Likewise, the situation in Syria, where an anti-regime popular uprising has been raging on since mid-March, will have an impact on the situation in Lebanon in general, and on the Cabinet situation in particular.
In this context, the opposition March 14 parties, according to political sources close to them and according to public statements made by some of their leaders, are betting on an imminent collapse of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad with all the negative repercussions entailed on the ruling faction. This trend was reflected in the opposition’s recent escalatory verbal attacks on Hezbollah.
There is no doubt that the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance has sufficient votes inside the Cabinet to achieve what it deems fit for its interests, either in administrative appointments or in any other issue, regardless of whether Mikati agrees with them or not.
However, Mikati has a card described by political observers as the strongest among cards held by the parties participating in the government: The threat to resign, something which the March 8 parties cannot afford to live with.
Therefore, these observers do not rule out the possibility that Speaker Nabih Berri will play a major role in maintaining Cabinet unity as much as he can until the picture becomes clear with regard to regional developments and the Western states’ assessment of the Lebanese government’s performance concerning its commitment to U.N. resolutions.