BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt issued a stern warning Monday to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, accusing it of failing to form a new Cabinet and signaling he might withdraw his parliamentary bloc’s support for the new majority.
It was Jumblatt’s harshest criticism of the March 8 alliance since he decided in a major policy shift in January to throw his bloc’s support behind the alliance’s candidate in the battle for premiership, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, against caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The votes of Jumblatt’s lawmakers shifted the Parliament majority from Hariri’s March 14 coalition to the Hezbollah-led March 8 camp.
Jumblatt’s criticism, contained in an article to be published in the PSP’s newspaper Al-Anbaa Tuesday, came as Mikati has failed to form a new government to replace Hariri’s toppled Cabinet, more than three months ago.
“It is no longer logical for the Progressive Socialist Party and the National Struggle Front [parliamentary bloc] to continue covering up this state of stagnation, [power] vacuum and obstruction by the so-called new majority, which has proved that it has totally failed to form the new government,” Jumblatt said.
“The new majority had unanimously named [former] Prime Minister Najib Mikati to form the new government. The prime minister-designate has met, as much as he could, most political demands of the various parties,” Jumblatt said, adding: “Why are we seeing this excessive obstruction and placing of obstacles [to forming the government] despite all the socio-economic and cost-of-living problems, which are hitting hard at citizens everywhere?”
Recalling that the PSP’s political position in support of Mikati in January was motivated by the need to protect stability and civil peace, Jumblatt said: “If some political parties are only out to serve their direct interests, we can no longer provide political cover for this position. Falling into this whirlpool amounts to the fall of the entire country. I wish those seeking shares [in the Cabinet] would wake up.” Referring to the March 8 groups’ bickering and jockeying for key ministerial posts, Jumblatt said the PSP and the NSF, “out of their commitment to the economic issues of the people, workers, peasants and toiling people, refuse to be dragged into the game of ministerial shares which has been obstructing the formation of the government for more than 100 days.”
“The PSP and NSF believe that the country’s interest can’t be served by this party being allotted that portfolio or vice versa, but by transcending narrow individual interests and moving to a new situation which the so-called new majority is unable to bring about, amid its current divisions and endless polarization,” he said.
Caretaker Public Minister Ghazi Aridi, a member of Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said the PSP leader sought with his statement to sound the “alarm bell” to prod all parties concerned to speed up the Cabinet’s formation in order to deal with the deteriorating economic and financial conditions.
“Jumblatt’s statement is a plea for the salvation of the country and for a quick formation of the government. It is a plea to rescue the country from a major crisis,” Aridi told The Daily Star by telephone Monday night.
“Jumblatt’s statement reflected the position of all the people on the need to form the government. This situation is unacceptable. A new government must be formed quickly. We are facing a very serious economic, financial and social situation,” he said.
Aridi denied that Jumblatt’s warning to the March 8 alliance was a prelude to moving to the rival March 14 camp.
“We are still in our position. We are waiting to see how [Jumblatt’s statement] will be dealt with [by the March 8 parties]. We will decide our next move in the light of the reaction to the statement,” Aridi said. He added that the quick formation of the government would serve the purpose of the warning.
Lebanon has been under a caretaker Cabinet since the collapse of Hariri’s government in January 12, in a long-simmering feud between the March 8 alliance and the March 14 coalition over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon which is probing the assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Mikati’s attempts to form a new government have stumbled mainly over the Interior Ministry portfolio, which is being contested by President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun.
A source close to Mikati said the prime minister-designate praised Jumblatt’s statement, hoping it would speed up the Cabinet’s formation. Jumblatt had notified Mikati of his stance when he met him last Friday, the source told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, a source close to the Cabinet formation talks said that “Syria encouraged a swift formation of the government.”
The source said the Syrian stance was relayed by Marjayoun-Hasbaya MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Speaker Nabih Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The two advisers, who held talks with Syrian officials on the Lebanese Cabinet crisis Saturday, have been involved in mediation efforts to break the three-month-long Cabinet deadlock.
According to the source, the main parties concerned in the Cabinet formation – the FPM, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement – are making proposals for a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry acceptable to both Sleiman and Aoun.
“A solution for the Interior Ministry problem will lead to the Cabinet’s formation. Mikati is waiting for the results of the parties’ contacts before deciding on his next move,” the source told The Daily Star.
“If agreement is reached on a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry, this will speed up the Cabinet’s formation,” the source said. “Lacking agreement, Mikati will go ahead with plans to announce a de facto but constitutional government taking into account the size of parliamentary blocs,” he added.
For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the only solution for the Cabinet crisis is the formation of a technocrat government.
“We may accept a technocrat government amid the current political divisions,” Geagea said in an interview with MTV Monday night. He added that Syria and Hezbollah were seeking “a confrontation government” and the Interior Ministry in order to control the security situation in the country.
After his consultations with the parties involved in the Cabinet formation efforts failed to produce an agreement on his draft 30-member Cabinet lineup, especially the row over the Interior Ministry portfolio, Mikati has decided to announce a de facto government. Berri has convinced Mikati to put off plans for such a Cabinet, to give more time for new talks to end the row over the Interior Ministry. Aoun has warned Mikati against announcing a de facto Cabinet, saying such a government is doomed to failure.
Earlier Monday, Jumblatt met Sleiman to discuss the current political developments in Lebanon, particularly the ongoing consultations on the formation of a new Cabinet, according to a statement from Baabda Palace.
In his article in Al-Anbaa newspaper, Jumblatt reiterated the PSP’s firm position in support of Hezbollah’s weapons “to deter any possible Israeli attack on Lebanon until agreement is reached on a defense strategy that would gradually integrate these weapons in the military establishment.” He also stressed the PSP’s rejection of the use of arms internally under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, caretaker Education Minister Hassan Mneimneh linked the formation of the government to the situation in Syria. “If the situation is brought under control there, the [Cabinet] formation will be accelerated. If the security situation deteriorates, the birth [of the Cabinet] will be delayed,” Mneimneh told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
He said the split among the Lebanese was no longer confined to the two major parties, the March 8 and March 14. “It is now within the March 8 team and its new allies, thus increasing difficulties and problems,” Mneimneh added.