BEIRUT: Two senior Hezbollah officials struck an upbeat note Sunday about the formation of a new government, reviving glimmers of hope for breaking the three-month-long Cabinet stalemate that has thrown the country into power vacuum.
But there was no sign that a breakthrough in the Cabinet crisis was imminent. Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati was unavailable for comment.
The Hezbollah officials’ remarks came a day after two envoys from Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah held talks in Damascus with Syrian officials on the Lebanese Cabinet crisis. Marjayoun-Hasbaya MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Nasrallah, have been involved in mediation efforts to break the Cabinet deadlock.
Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, said new proposals have been made that could help accelerate the Cabinet’s formation.
Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, the deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, was even more optimistic, saying the Cabinet’s formation was imminent after the parties in the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance have reached an agreement to end the row between President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun over the Interior Ministry portfolio.
“We are keen on a quick formation of the Cabinet. All the parties in the new [Parliament] majority have agreed on a solution to the Interior Ministry problem. This means that we have entered a decisive stage that brings us closer to the government’s formation,” Qaouk told a rally organized by the group in the southern village of Insariyeh.
“Therefore, we expect this stage to be decisive and we will have blocked the road to any return of the American tutelage and any betting to spread chaos and political divisions in Lebanon,” he said.
Qaouk accused the March 14 coalition of delaying the Cabinet’s formation in the hope of returning to power.
“There is a team in the new parliamentary majority that is working and cooperating positively to speed up the Cabinet’s formation, save the country and protect national unity,” he said. Referring to the March 14 coalition, Qaouk added: “There is a team, whose allegiance to America has been exposed, which is betting on deepening divisions and delaying the Cabinet’s formation in order to return to power.”
Lebanon has been under a caretaker Cabinet since the collapse of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government on Jan. 12 in a long-simmering feud between the March 8 alliance and the Hariri-led March 14 coalition over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon which is probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Tripoli MP Najib Mikati, nominated by the March 8 coalition, was appointed on Jan. 25 to form the new Cabinet. However, a dispute between Sleiman and Aoun over the Interior Ministry portfolio is widely thought to be the main obstacle behind the government’s formation.
Qassem said Hezbollah wanted the government to be formed as soon as possible. He said that all parties involved in the process, including Sleiman and Mikati, were responsible for the Cabinet’s formation.
Qassem voiced hopes that the next few days will carry a solution for the Cabinet crisis. “There are ideas that have been proposed which we hope will bear fruit and which we hope allies in the Cabinet formation will respond positively to in order to speed up the government’s formation,” Qassem said in a speech at a ceremony organized by the Association of Islamic Religious Teaching for Girls in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
He said the Cabinet’s formation would help the country move forward “after a period of pressures, problems and complications.”
“Hezbollah wants Lebanon’s Cabinet to be formed as soon as possible, today rather than tomorrow,” Qassem said, adding “this is what we have wanted ever since the appointment [of Mikati].” He said “normal complications” as a result of the different sides in the process were slowing down the formation. “These sides need to reach an understanding among themselves,” he added.
Qassem expressed hope that more positive steps would be taken to help speed up the Cabinet’s formation.
Referring to the anti-regime public protests that have rocked Syria for seven weeks, Qassem said stability in Syria was essential for Lebanon’s stability and regional stability. “We call for stability in Syria and not to tamper with its situation. This is in the interest of Syria and Lebanon and in the interest of the entire region,” he said.
Speaker Berri called for accelerating the formation of “a responsible and integrated” government.
“Lebanon, at this Arab moment fraught with changes and challenges and in the absence of an Arab safety network … , needs all elements of national unity,” Berri told a rally at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center. He said the clinging to privileges and failure to comply with the 1989 Arab-brokered Taif Accord, not Hezbollah’s weapons, were preventing the rise of the state.
“We all have to admit that what is preventing the rise of the state is the clinging to privileges and non-compliance with the national, social contracts that are embodied in the Taif Accord, and not the weapons of the resistance,” Berri said.
Apparently responding to Hariri and his March 14 allies who have launched scathing verbal attacks against Hezbollah’s weapons in recent weeks, Berri said: “Enough with using weapons as an excuse and claims that they are being aimed at our heads.”
Caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi also called for a quick formation of the government “to save the country from the disaster of chaos and instability and preserve the state as an authority and a sanctuary.” – with additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine