BEIRUT

Lebanon News

March 14 seeks Cabinet change through Sleiman

Berri and Mikati discussed recent developments on the domestic scene.

BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition is in contact with President Michel Sleiman to explore a solution to the current political stalemate through a Cabinet change, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Sunday.

But Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah signaled that the government would stay in office to supervise next year’s parliamentary elections.

“We are in contact with the president to find a solution to the Cabinet crisis. The search for a new Cabinet is taking place only through President Sleiman,” Siniora told The Daily Star.

Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, reiterated the March 14 demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government before attending any National Dialogue session. Sleiman had unsuccessfully tried to convene last month to discuss a solution to the political crisis.

“No dialogue before the government’s resignation and the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet to oversee the elections,” Siniora said.

Mikati and his March 8 allies have warned of a power vacuum should the government step down in the absence of an agreement on a new Cabinet.

Asked how would March 14 achieve its demand for the government’s resignation, Siniora said: “We will use persuasion and democratic means. Boycott is one of these democratic means. We have no weapons except the weapon of democracy.”

Following the Oct. 19 assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, chief of the police’s Information Branch, in a car bomb in the Beirut district of Ashrafieh, the March 14 coalition called for the government’s resignation and the formation of “a neutral salvation Cabinet” before attending any Dialogue session with the March 8 parties.

The March 14 parties have also boycotted the government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament as part of their tactics to force a government resignation.

Siniora acknowledged that attempts have so far failed to make inroads in the political deadlock that threatens to destabilize Lebanon after a fresh round of sectarian clashes in the northern city of Tripoli.

The violence in the northern Lebanese city has heightened fears that the conflict in Syria will spill over into Lebanon.

Some 17 people have been killed and more than 70 wounded in fierce fighting between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tripoli in the past few days.

Siniora said the issue of a Cabinet change was discussed during his meeting last week with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.

The ice-breaking meeting, held at Jumblatt’s residence in Mukhtara in the Chouf mountains, was the first face-to-face encounter between senior officials from the Future Movement and the PSP.

The two sides also discussed the 2013 parliamentary elections and the electoral law it would be based on amid sharp differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties on a new electoral law.

Siniora said Jumblatt’s stance on a Cabinet change has not changed. The PSP leader has rejected the government’s resignation, fearing a power vacuum in the absence of a consensus on the formation of a new Cabinet.

Mikati discussed the political crisis with Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter’s residence in Ain al-Tineh Saturday.

Mikati said the talks also covered the parliamentary subcommittee tasked with examining proposals for a new electoral law and the government’s new salary scale for civil servants and public school teachers amid a strike planned by the teachers’ unions for Wednesday to press the Cabinet to refer the draft law on the salary raise to Parliament.

Nasrallah ruled out the government’s resignation, saying the government would stay in place to oversee the 2013 elections.

He added that Hezbollah was preparing for the parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place in June next year.

“The government is staying to supervise the parliamentary elections. Its resignation will be normal and constitutional [after the elections],” Nasrallah said during a dialogue with university students Friday.

He added that Hezbollah has begun preparations for the elections in a serious and effective manner, rejecting accusations that the party was working to postpone the vote.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah would support any electoral law to be agreed on by the Lebanese, even though it preferred the government’s draft electoral law based on a system of proportional representation with 13 medium-sized districts.

However, the government’s draft law has been rejected outright by the March 14 parties, which have come forward with their own electoral proposal for dividing Lebanon into 50 small districts.

Also Sunday, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called on rival political leaders to reconcile and shoulder their responsibility in ensuring stability, security and peace in the country.

Speaking in Sunday’s Mass at his seat in Bkiri, north of Beirut, Rai urged the rival factions to cooperate “to meet the citizens’ needs, put an end unemployment and emigration and open new horizons and a promising future for the new generation.”

Minister of Public Works Ghazi Aridi said the PSP’s political initiative was aimed at warding off the threat of sectarian strife in Lebanon as a result of rising tension linked to the conflict in Syria.

In a speech at a PSP ceremony in the town of Ras al-Metn marking the birthday of the late Kamal Jumblatt, Aridi recalled the splits between March 8 and March 14 parties over the crisis in Syria.

“We have tried from the beginning to say to everyone that the Syrian crisis is bigger than us and we are in disagreement on analyzing it. There are some who support the [Syrian] regime and others who are against it. So let’s come together to organize the differences,” Aridi said.

Referring to the parties’ fiery speeches containing “venom and hatred,” and the threat of strife, he added: “Faced with this situation, the PSP has decided to launch an initiative toward all the political parties. We are convinced that we have no other choice to dialogue.”

Aridi and two other ministers from Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc have visited the country’s rival factions to brief them on the PSP’s initiative aimed at bridging the wide gap between the parties on a solution to the crisis.

The initiative, which was announced by Jumblatt last month, called on all parties to accept National Dialogue as the only means to resolve the crisis and avoid involvement in the Syrian conflict.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 10, 2012, on page 3.

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