Political sources are speculating about whether Cabinet’s March 21 session will be its last, and wondering whether Prime Minister Najib Mikati will resign after it convenes.
But Grand Serail sources exclude the possibility of a resignation, stressing that Mikati will carry on until an agreement is reached on a new electoral law.
Despite the denial by the sources, some say fears about the Cabinet’s collapse have a basis because both Mikati and President Michel Sleiman are convinced the government will have trouble carrying on given that it has reached a dead end on several issues.
The first major problem is the much-discussed electoral law. Sources say Mikati’s Cabinet has been unable to defend its own draft law, which is a hybrid between proportional and winner-takes-all systems because parties within the government support their own preferred proposals: March 8 backs the Orthodox Gathering’s draft law, the Progressive Socialist Party and independent ministers prefer the 1960 law, and Mikati’s ministers reject both options.
So when Sleiman and Mikati signed a decree calling for elections on June 9, the Cabinet was divided, with some parties in the government going so far as to describe the moment the decree was signed as a “dark day” for democracy.
Another issue the Cabinet faces is Mikati’s own admission that his government is not unified, and his call for a neutral government to oversee elections. Sources say he was hasty in announcing his desire to resign and gave his opposition a card to play against him.
The government has also failed to negotiate with unions on the promised salary raise for teachers and public sector workers, failing to stem the rising tide of protests calling for its resignation. Leaders of the private sector have warned that if the pay hike is adopted there would be economic repercussions.
But sources say there is no reason to believe Cabinet will adopt the pay raise in its March 21 session, and a failure to do so could bring down the Cabinet, but would also be a convenient reason not to spend the required funds.
A further obstacle is Mikati’s own concern that the government’s policy of disassociation toward the crisis in Syria is no longer protecting Lebanon, especially after Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said Syria should be given back its seat in the Arab League.
Mikati’s negative reaction showed the difference between the prime minister and his strongest backer in Cabinet, Hezbollah, which is now directly involved in the fighting in Syria.
Mikati’s other main ally, Speaker Nabih Berri, has not hidden his frustration with Mikati’s reaction to Mansour’s comments but sources say the speaker understands the prime minister’s reasoning.
Increased frustration in Gulf countries toward the government have become clear, after Michel Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement is a key member of the Cabinet, criticized what he described as “injustice” in Bahrain. A recent delegation from the Gulf met with Sleiman and not Mikati during its few hours in the country.
Despite all of these challenges, Grand Serail sources still rule out a resignation. But the opposition and the majority are increasingly discussing the post-Cabinet phase.
At Baabda Palace, sources expect dramatic changes.
This is reflected in rumors that Sleiman will no longer convene Cabinet if a committee to oversee elections – opposed by powerful parties in the government – is not convened. Other leaks, potentially equally damaging to the Cabinet, suggest several ministers are considering resignation.