Lebanon News

Geagea: New Cabinet through Parliament, not Dialogue

LF leader Samir Geagea speaks during an interview with The Daily Star in Maarab, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. (The Daily Star/Aldo Ayoub, HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Monday he opposed the formation of a new government via National Dialogue, as called for by Speaker Nabih Berri, favoring instead a “neutral” Cabinet to supervise the upcoming elections.

“Rather than talking about holding a National Dialogue session, we should focus on the constitutional mechanism to form a new government and it stipulates parliamentary consultations so we could lift the country from where it is now,” Geagea said in a televised news conference from his Meerab residence.

He also noted that previous National Dialogue sessions, including those held last year, had not achieved any tangible results, saying rival leaders had agreed on central issues but failed to contribute positively to the country’s stability.

“We held several rounds of Dialogue last year chaired by the president and agreed on the Baabda Declaration, praised by so many, but a while later what did we witness?” he asked, adding: “an attempted assassination against MP Butros Harb, the assassination of [Brig. Gen.] Wissal al-Hasan ... as Hezbollah was engaged in Syria,” Geagea said.

During a June 2012 National Dialogue session chaired by President Michel Sleiman, rival political leaders, agreed to keep Lebanon at a distance from regional turmoil, particularly the ongoing fighting in Syria. Geagea, who at the time dubbed the sessions as fruitless, boycotted the inter-party talks.

In October 2011, Hasan, who headed the police’s Information Branch, was killed in a Beirut car bombing that prompted the March 14 coalition to boycott parliamentary work involving Cabinet ministers. The Future Movement, a main component of the opposition group, said at the time it would not return to the all-party talks unless the government resigned.

Geagea reiterated Monday his view that Dialogue was not the way to go.

“I consider talking about a Dialogue session to form a new government a waste of time,” Geagea said, adding however that no political party was opposed to Dialogue as a general principle.

Following the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati over the weekend, the Parliament speaker called on the March 14 coalition to return to Dialogue in order to form a new government and agree on an electoral law for the upcoming parliamentary elections due in early June.

Political sources told The Daily Star Sunday that consultations were ongoing to hold a National Dialogue session this Thursday.

While opposing a return to Dialogue, Geagea said he supported the formation of a “neutral government” to supervise the upcoming elections, which he said should only be delayed for a short period of time if necessary.

“The only government that can salvage the country is one by the parliamentary majority made up of March 14 and centrist politicians given that we insist on holding the elections on time, so the majority and the centrists should form a neutral government to pay attention to people's concerns until the elections take place which would result in a [new] political government and all other talk is a waste of time” he said.

According to Geagea, no other type of government, whether a national unity one or otherwise, would work given the deep divisions between the March 8 and the March 14 alliances.

“I call on the centrists to think about that [suggestion],” he said, referring to parliamentary bloc headed by MP Walid Jumblatt, who is seen as the kingmaker capable of tipping the balance of power in favor of either of the country’s rival coalitions.

Joseph Nehmeh, a spokesperson for the Lebanese Forces told The Daily Star Monday, that Geagea’s proposal also stipulates that the prime minister and Cabinet members in this proposed “neutral government” should not be eligible to run for the parliamentary elections.

He also said that the neutral government would supervise the elections.

The LF’s plan is in line with that of President Michel Sleiman, Nehmeh said.

A Baabda source said that Sleiman’s office would issue a statement Thursday setting a date for the start of binding consultations for parliamentary blocs to name a prime minister-designate who would form a new Cabinet.

A political source told The Daily Star Sunday the parliamentary consultations would focus on two ideas: The formation of a technocrat or neutral Cabinet to supervise the elections, scheduled for June 9, following a technical delay of the polls to allow for an agreement on a new electoral law, or the formation of a national unity government if the polls were to be delayed for two years.

During his news conference, Geagea opposed extending Parliament’s mandate for two years, describing it as a violation of the country’s Constitution.

Lawmakers have yet to agree on a new electoral law to replace the amended version of the 1960 law used in 2009 which have raised doubts over the fate of the elections.

Geagea, along with most of the country’s main political parties and the Maronite Church, have opposed a return to the 1960 law.

As for the new prime minister, Geagea said his party would propose a candidate based on the type of government to be formed, saying he was in contact with his allies and centrist politicians in that regard.

He would not exclude the possibility of renaming Mikati to head the future Cabinet.

He also said there was a pressing need for a new Cabinet given “the catastrophic economic situation” in the country.

Meanwhile, independent Christian figures called Monday for the “formation of a new government that can fill the void,” and said any future government should adopt the policy of disassociation from events in neighboring Syria.

“[The attendees] affirm their support to President Michel Sleiman and their support for holding the elections on time,” MP Antoine Saad said, reading a statement issued after their weekly meeting at Harb’s residence.

The lawmakers and figures also called for a new electoral law that guarantees fair representation and safeguards the unity of the Lebanese.

"The attendees also said the Baadba Declaration should be adopted in the new government's ministerial statement in order to distance Lebanon from the ongoing conflict in Syria,” the statement said.





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