BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Compromise needed on new Cabinet

Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the presidential palace in Baabda, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

In the wake of the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, all political sides in Lebanon have emphasized the importance of preserving stability, be it because they truly want this calm or are forced to accept calls for it by circumstance.

But ministerial sources say that the opposition will continue to call for Prime Minister Najib Mikati to resign, and will attempt to keep the focus on the terrorism accusations against former Minister Michel Samaha as it tones down its rhetoric on Hezbollah’s arms.

Mikati has called a Cabinet session at Baabda Palace Wednesday, a meeting that might include appointments in a bid to show that the government is productive despite calls for its resignation. Another session will be held next week.

According to parliamentary sources, given President Michel Sleiman’s growing closeness to March 14, it is understood that he wants to form a new Cabinet. The president believes that a fresh Cabinet would increase his status, as Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement could end up with less influence and Sleiman must sign off on any configuration.

But the sources add that Sleiman is afraid of a political vacuum that would stop both the state’s productivity and harm his own reputation as the end of his term approaches.

The sources believe that a recent strain in relations between Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri – including their disagreement over whether Mikati’s Cabinet should resign – has strengthened a deal Jumblatt and Speaker Nabih Berri have that the Cabinet should remain until all parties can agree on a new one.

Deciding on a new Cabinet entails agreeing on an electoral law, Hezbollah’s arms, how to deal with the situation in Syria and a policy statement, which raises the question of how March 14 forces will deal with the “Army, people and resistance” formula of the current government.

In June, the members of a National Dialogue session decided that Lebanon should not side with either regional axis in the Syrian conflict and that arms should not be smuggled into the country. The parliamentary sources add that this Baabda statement is effectively invalid given that March 14 has openly accused Syria of Hasan’s assassination and Sleiman has tied Samaha’s case to that of Hasan.

Another obstacle in forming a new government is how it would deal with Hasan’s case, given that one political camp is openly accusing Syria of the killing, Sleiman and Mikati linking the killing with Samaha, and March 8 leaving all options open.

The sources questioned whether a government could endure an indictment naming Syrian officials in Hasan’s killing, noting that major efforts were made to contain the repercussions of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon indictment that accused Hezbollah members of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Another hurdle to shaping a new Cabinet is the electoral law, given that Jumblatt has rejected both the government and March 14’s draft laws. Further, the sources say that Berri and Jumblatt have agreed that Mikati must head any new Cabinet, a possibility that will draw March 14 ire.

Given both the impediments to forming a new Cabinet and March 14’s insistence on toppling the current one, the sources say it will take foreign, and particularly European, influence to pressure Lebanese groups into a compromise.

They put importance on the upcoming visit of Russia’s foreign minister to France, and French President Francois Hollande’s trip to Saudi Arabia. There are reports that Lebanon will be second on the agenda in Hollande’s meetings with Saudi leadership, behind only the Syrian crisis.

Given that local efforts are likely to lead nowhere, the sources suggest that such international efforts are necessary if Lebanon is to maintain any distance from the events in Syria and avoid a power vacuum and the dangerous security consequences this could bring.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 29, 2012, on page 3.

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