BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition launched Tuesday a scathing attack against Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his government at a Parliament session convened to discuss the new Cabinet’s policy statement, setting the tone for a fierce opposition toward the government’s agenda.
The session, convened by Speaker Nabih Berri at around 10.35 a.m., witnessed heated statements between lawmakers from the rival March 8 and March 14 camps over a controversial article in the policy statement dealing with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon – the U.N.-backed court probing the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“We urge Mikati to amend his position on the policy statement article dealing with the STL and instead use the text from the Doha Agreement,” MP Marwan Hamadeh said, referring to the agreement that had laid out the basis for former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s national unity government, which collapsed following the resignation of Hezbollah-led March 8 ministers earlier this year.
The March 14 announced over the weekend that it would vote against the policy statement, which it said had been watered down to suit Hezbollah, members of whom have been indicted in the assassination of statesman Rafik Hariri.
“We are here today not to give confidence to the possession of weapons that has already lost people’s trust and we will not give our support to a Cabinet that was formed illegitimately," Future Movement MP Hadi Hobeish told Parliament Tuesday.
Mikati, who has been under competing demands from both international and regional sides, defended Monday his government’s position on the STL and accused the March 14 coalition of misleading the public and “sabotaging the country.”
“The people are fed up with slogans and want actions. This is what we pledge today to this honorable assembly that we look forward to cooperating with,” Mikati, who was the first to address the assembly, told lawmakers after reading his Cabinet’s 26-page policy statement.
Mikati’s Cabinet approved its ministerial statement Thursday, on the very same day that a delegation from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon handed Lebanon's state prosecutor indictments and arrest warrants against four members of Hezbollah.
Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, said Saturday the indicted four would be tried in absentia, but would never be apprehended. Hezbollah has denied involvement in the assassination of Hariri.
“Is there no room for justice for those who shed their blood for their country?” Hamadeh, a member of the March 14 movement, asked.
“Your friend [Rafik Hariri] was not simply killed, but he was assassinated by two tons of explosives,” Hamadeh said, addressing Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“Those behind the ugliest crime are about to be exposed, so why is the STL being so fiercely attacked?” Hamadeh asked, referring to Hezbollah’s repeated claims that the court lacks credibility and is part of a “U.S.-Israeli project” aimed at targeting the resistance group.
MP Tamam Salam warned that division in the country would increase enmity between rival political groups.
“Time will prove that ambiguous wording in the policy statement will not stand up when there’s division between the Cabinet members,” Salam said.
Some 106 lawmakers attended the Parliament session.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the session, which was called for recess shortly after 3.00 p.m. and will recommence at 6.00 p.m., Mikati said that the general mood in Parliament was positive and that “opinions for or against our position will give us momentum to face all local pending challenges.”
Hobeish accused the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 of seeking to dominate and reshape Lebanon away from democratic principles.
“The problem is that they [March 8 coalition] are against the logic of democracy and seek to recreate a country dominated by one party with the aim of changing the system of governance,” Hobeish said.
He also said that the policy statement, which did not mention Hezbollah’s weapons, had given legitimacy to regular citizens to carry arms.
“The role of the state and its army is to preserve civil peace,” he said, adding: “If the legitimate forces are incapable of protecting the people and the country, how is it expected to preserve civil peace?”
“We stand today to say to this Cabinet … no vote of confidence, no vote of confidence, no vote of confidence,” Hobeish said.
Mohammad Qabbani, another Future Movement MP, took aim at President Michel Sleiman, arguing that the head of state had delivered contradictory statements prior to and following the drafting of the policy statement.
“The president’s speech said the government would commit to international resolutions … yet the policy statement merely respects them,” Qabbani said.
“Who would believe that this government’s purpose is to preserve civil peace?” Qabbani asked, adding that a coup had been followed by “a government of one party.”
Following a series of stern allegations against Mikati and his Cabinet by March 14 lawmakers, Loyalty to the Resistance MP Bilal Farhat defended the recently formed Cabinet, praising its strength for overcoming international pressure.
"The Cabinet was formed following months of deliberations despite attempts by foreign powers to obstruct it," Farhat said.
Despite various international attempts to prevent Mikati from forming a government dominated by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, the Cabinet was formed by “a Lebanese effort” representing various national interests, Farhat added.
"I will give the Cabinet the vote of confidence and … a chance to translate its talk into action,” the Hezbollah MP said.
MP Marwan Fares, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, called on behalf of his bloc for the withdrawal of Lebanese judges from the STL and to end all funding for the tribunal.
--Additional reporting by Dana Khraiche, Rima Aboulmona and Wassim Mroue.