Lebanon News

Sidon clashes might hasten Cabinet formation

File - Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Thursday, April 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Rival factions may be prompted to make concessions that will accelerate the formation of a new Cabinet following the bloody clashes in Sidon, political sources said Tuesday.

“The alarming security situation following the clashes in Sidon might push the March 8 and March 14 parties into making concessions to facilitate the Cabinet formation,” a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star.

A senior government source predicted an imminent breakthrough in the Cabinet formation. “Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is likely to announce the formation of an extraordinary government under extraordinary circumstances in the next few days,” the source told The Daily Star.

The source said he was briefed by Salam on his attempts to accelerate the Cabinet formation.

The results of caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour’s talks with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia could be crucial for the success of Salam’s efforts to put together a new government, the source added.

The source warned that if a government was not formed in the next few days, its birth would become difficult if not impossible.

According to the source, Salam’s proposal for a 24-member Cabinet equally divided by the March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists would not be adopted if there was a consensus among the main political parties concerned with the formation on the need for a new Cabinet whose mission is to contain the security and political crises that might arise following the Lebanese Army’s military operation in Sidon that crushed Salafist preacher Ahmad Assir’s phenomenon.

The source did not rule out the possibility that the ongoing negotiations on the Cabinet formation were seeking to make the March 14 coalition drop its veto on Hezbollah’s participation in the government before the party withdraws its fighters from Syria in exchange for the March 8 parties softening their stance and reducing their conditions for joining the government.In addition to demanding the blocking third [veto power], the March 8 parties want to be represented in the new Cabinet according to the size of their parliamentary representation.Referring to efforts made by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt to facilitate Salam’s mission, parliamentary sources said Berri was keen on the success of the premier-designate, especially following the latter’s statements concerning the role of the resistance.

Berri is making serious efforts to convince Hezbollah to join the government if it received serious guarantees from Salam and Jumblatt to allay the party’s concerns that the Cabinet would not take any decision that might threaten the resistance and its strategy, or bring up the issue of the group’s arms or its participation in the fighting in Syria, the sources said.

Although they acknowledge that it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve this matter, the sources said that Jumblatt’s efforts, through his envoy to Saudi Arabia Abu Faour, would concentrate with senior Saudi officials on the minor details of the current situation in Lebanon, which necessitated the formation of a government with the participation of all the major political components, particularly Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

The Cabinet formation in Lebanon, following the military developments in Syria and Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting there, has become closely linked to the assessment of these developments by Riyadh and Tehran, the sources said.

If Hezbollah is offered a Cabinet formula that does not touch the core of its activity, be it in Syria or its resistance against Israel, it will not hesitate to persuade its ally, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, to participate because it is highly unlikely that the party will join a Cabinet without Aoun being in it, the sources added.

Meanwhile, the March 14 coalition reiterated its support for the Lebanese Army in defending Lebanon against security threats and called for a swift formation of a new Cabinet.

Speaking to reporters following an extraordinary meeting of March 14 lawmakers and politicians, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the participants discussed the dangers and risks of fragmentation facing Lebanon.

“The March 14 coalition underscored the need to form a new government that would be capable of committing to the March 14 memorandum and the ‘Baabda Declaration’ and succeed in regaining confidence in the Lebanese economy,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2013, on page 1.




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