Lebanon News

Jumblatt urges Cabinet deal to avert dangers

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt renewed his call Monday for a swift formation of a new government, warning that Lebanon was facing “major dangers” and its future was at stake.

In his warning, the second in a week, Jumblatt told the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition that it’s time to break the nearly four-month-long Cabinet deadlock.

He said dialogue between the March 8 and March 14 parties was essential to help Lebanon overcome “major dangers” surrounding it and the region amid “major political changes” in the Arab world as a result of popular uprisings demanding reforms and a regime change in some Arab countries.

“Therefore, we reaffirm the need for the formation of a new government rapidly to confront all these developments and to follow up the course of the international tribunal which successive developments have confirmed is being politically exploited according to international and regional circumstances,” Jumblatt said.

“The formation of the government is one of the most important means to confront negative ramifications that might be issued by this tribunal. The continued distraction with endless lengthy debate on who gets what in the awaited Cabinet lineup is merely an act revolving in a vicious circle that it is time to break it,” he said.

Warning that Lebanon’s future was at stake in view of the fast-moving developments in the region, Jumblatt said: “It is not a matter of forming a government and gaining a minister. It is related to Lebanon’s future and the possibility of destroying all the national achievements attained following the Taif Accord if the current break [in ties between rival factions] persists.”

Jumblatt’s position came in an article to be published in the PSP’s weekly newspaper Al-Anbaa Tuesday. In a similar article last week, Jumblatt issued a stern warning to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, accusing it of failing to form a government and threatening to withdraw his parliamentary bloc’s support for the new Parliament majority.

Jumblatt’s fresh warning came amid difficulties Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati is facing in his attempts to form a government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet. It also came amid gloomy prospects for an early formation of the Cabinet as deep differences remain between Mikati and the March 8 parties over the distribution of portfolios.

Further dimming hopes for breaking the Cabinet impasse was the absence of consultations between Mikati and the March 8 alliance, while Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun has again accused Mikati of having no intention to form the government. Aoun also said President Michel Sleiman should not be allotted any portfolio in the Cabinet because he does not have a parliamentary bloc.

There have been no contacts between Mikati and representatives from the FPM, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement led by Speaker Nabih Berri since last Wednesday’s meeting failed to iron out differences over the distribution of portfolios among the March 8 alliance and others, including Sleiman’s share. A source close to Mikati said he was still waiting for answers to “some specific but essential points.”

Hopes for the formation of the government rose last week after an agreement was reached to end the row over the Interior Ministry portfolio, which was contested by Sleiman and Aoun. The nomination of retired police officer, Brig. Gen. Marwan Charbel, as a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry, has been approved by all the parties, removing a major obstacle to the Cabinet’s formation.

The March 8 and March14 factions are sharply split over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

While Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have dismissed the STL as “an American-Israeli project” designed to stir up sectarian strife, Hariri and his March 14 allies maintained that the tribunal was the best means to achieve justice in Rafik Hariri’s assassination.

The long-simmering dispute over the STL eventually led to the collapse of Hariri’s Cabinet on Jan. 12 following the resignations of the ministers of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies. The new Parliament majority, made up of the March 8 alliance and Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, backed Mikati to form the new government.

Since the toppling of Hariri’s Cabinet, the March 8 and March 14 groups have not been on speaking terms, especially after Hariri and his allies launched a vehement campaign against Hezbollah’s arsenal, accusing the party of using its arms to achieve political goals.

Jumblatt also praised last week’s summit meeting of the country’s Christian and Muslim religious leaders hosted by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki as a move to unite the Lebanese with their various sectarian affiliations. He noted that the spiritual summit came at a time when communications between the country’s main political leaders are almost entirely severed.

“We have not seen such a situation even in the darkest and harshest years of the Civil War. Then, there had always been a kind of direct or indirect communications between the Lebanese despite the bloody conflict at the time,” Jumblatt said, adding: “Today, there is a complete political break indicating that the entire political class did not have the spirit of national responsibility that demands communications and dialogue no matter how deep and big the differences are.”

Jumblatt renewed his call on Sleiman to resume meetings of the National Dialogue Committee once a new government is formed.

The committee, whose meetings have been stalled since last year, was discussing a national defense strategy to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.

“There is no escape from returning to dialogue which is alone sufficient to reconcile the viewpoints and gradually rebuild confidence among the political parties,” Jumblatt said.

Meanwhile, the Kataeb (Phalange) Party said the Cabinet paralysis was no longer acceptable and renewed its call for a quick government formation to deal with the country’s social and cost-of-living problems.

A statement issued after the weekly meeting of the party’s politburo chaired by former President Amin Gemayel said that the Lebanese were decrying the paralysis in state institutions, which were heading toward “disintegration.”

“We warn that we have reached a stage where repentance is no longer useful. While people in some Arab states are demanding the toppling of their regimes, the Lebanese are demanding the salvation of their state’s regime which is struggling, with no solutions in the offing,” the statement said.

It asked whether the conflict of the March 8 parties’ interests or the interests of regional powers were behind the delay in the Cabinet’s formation. “In both cases, this matter is no longer acceptable. The country is in limbo while the people are left to grapple with all kinds of social and economic crises,” the statement added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 17, 2011, on page 2.

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