BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced the collapse of the March 8 coalition Tuesday, putting an end to the Amal Movement’s frail alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement of MP Michel Aoun.
Berri’s bombshell was expected to give a major boost to efforts to form a new Cabinet, which have been mired by delays and a series of obstacles. By ending their alliance with Aoun, Berri explained that March 8’s key demand to acquire veto power within the new government “was no longer valid.”
“There is no such thing as the March 8 alliance anymore,” Berri told The Daily Star. “We agree with [Gen.] Aoun on strategic issues such as the resistance and [the stance toward] Israel but not on domestic issues.”
“On the domestic level, our choices differ and each will follow their own course,” he added.
The alliance between the two Shiite groups and the former Army commander mainly hinged on a Memorandum of Understanding inked in February 2006 between Hezbollah and the FPM with Aoun and Berri enjoying lukewarm ties throughout.
But serious rifts surfaced in recent months over the extension of Parliament’s term, which the Christian leader opposed and more recently over the extension of the mandate of Lebanese Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi, a problematic issue that Aoun stands against.
Berri said he informed his decision to break their alliance with the FPM to premier-designate Tammam Salam and to Aoun’s son-in-law and closest adviser caretaker Energy and Water Resources Minister Gebran Bassil.
The speaker explained that from now on Hezbollah and Amal would be in charge of negotiating the Shiite share in Salam’s new government while the FPM and the Marada Movement of MP Sleiman Franjieh would negotiate the Christian share.
“This means the March 8’s demand for veto power is no longer valid,” Berri said. “We will propose names to Salam and if he objects to certain names we have no problem replacing them.”
Berri’s announcement is seen as a means to expedite the formation of a new government ahead of back-to-back Parliamentary sessions scheduled to begin on July 16.
Salam, who was designated to form a new government in April, discussed the matter with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Khalil Hraoui, the political adviser of President Michel Sleiman during separate meetings Tuesday. As for the March 14 alliance’s insistence on including the extension of the retirement age of the retired head of the Internal Security Forces Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi on the agenda of Parliament sessions scheduled for July 16-18, Berri suggested holding an extraordinary Cabinet session to discuss extending the retirement ages of both Rifi and Kahwagi. “This is my proposal for a way out,” he said.
Parliament had been expected to meet for a series of legislative sessions last week but was unable to do so due to a lack of quorum. Berri had to postpone the sessions to mid-July as a result of the boycott by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, March 14 political parties and the FPM.
The March 14 and the Future Movement argue that the item on Parliament’s agenda to extend the terms of soon-to-retire security and military generals must include all security services including the ISF.
“Let the caretaker government meet and discuss those issues,” Berri said. “If they fail to reach a solution then they can resort to Parliament.”