Lebanon News

Obama urges government formation

Caretaker Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, left, and MP Ghazi Zeaiter, center, arrive at the Parliament in Beirut, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: President Barack Obama voiced support Wednesday for the formation of a government in Lebanon that meets the aspirations of the Lebanese and defends their national interests.

Meanwhile, Parliament failed to convene again for a lack of quorum after March 14 MPs boycotted the session.

“We continue to support the Lebanese people as they seek to form a government that reflects their aspirations and that will strengthen Lebanon’s ability to defend its national interests and meet its international obligations,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut.

“We also renew our commitment to promoting Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and independence and to our partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces,” Obama said.

Nominated in April, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has failed to form a government due to conditions and counter-conditions placed by the March 8 and March 14 coalitions.

March 8 groups argue that a national unity government representing all political parties in the country should be formed to address the challenges of regional turmoil, particularly the civil war in neighboring Syria.

But March 14 rivals maintain that a neutral government could only be formed amid sharp political polarization in the country.

Parliament has also fallen into a state of paralysis. The legislature has failed to convene several times since July for lack of quorum resulting from a boycott by March 14 MPs, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and lawmakers from Michel Aoun’s bloc.

The same session called for by Berri could not achieve quorum Wednesday, prompting the speaker to postpone it to Nov. 20, with the same agenda.

Mikati, Future Movement lawmakers and other March 14 MPs argue that under a caretaker government, Parliament can only convene to discuss urgent draft laws, not the 45-item agenda put forth by Berri.

But Berri maintains that Parliament can convene at anytime regardless of the status of the government and discuss any agenda item.

Aoun’s MPs oppose the agenda, not its constitutionality, protesting the absence of draft laws presented by their bloc.

As usual, Future bloc MPs Ahmad Fatfat and Ammar Houri showed up in Parliament’s hall to defend their group’s stance. They traded accusations with rival MPs over which side was responsible for paralyzing the work of the legislature.

“The Future Movement has not made a decision to facilitate the formation of the government or the work of Parliament,” Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad told reporters. “The stance which is actually causing paralysis is that of the Future Movement which reflects the party’s commitment to regional policies,” added Fayyad, who is a lawmaker for the Hasbaya-Marjayoun district.For his part, Houri said that the March 8 coalition was projecting its own deeds onto its rivals.

“The other camp closed Parliament before and it is now responsible for parliamentary paralysis again and in the government. It is now obstructing efforts to form the government and accuses our political group of doing so,” Houri said.

Berri halted Parliament sessions between Nov. 2006 and May 2008, arguing that Parliament could not convene under the government of then Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, which he considered illegitimate because it no longer represented a major sect.

In November 2006, Hezbollah and Amal ministers representing the Shiite sect in the country withdrew from the government in protest of its decision to send a letter to the U.N. requesting the formation of an international tribunal to try the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Later Wednesday, Berri called for ending efforts of obstructing the work of the Parliament.

“The most dangerous thing we are witnessing is the continuation of the boycott policy that does not only target Parliament but the country and the Lebanese,” Berri was quoted as saying during his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence in Beirut. “[Berri] called for abandoning such a policy and for dealing with this delicate period positively, openly and through dialogue.”

Berri also met Progressive Socialist Party MP Akram Shehayeb representing PSP leader Walid Jumblatt.

In remarks to a local newspaper published Wednesday, Jumblatt criticized the stance of former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Berri’s call for the session.

Jumblatt described the position of Siniora, who heads the Future parliamentary bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, as “negative, discouraging and inappropriate.” He also praised Berri, saying he was always eager to achieve consensus.

Separately, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah will deliver a televised speech Monday during a ceremony in the Beirut southern suburbs to mark 25 years since the establishment of the Al-Rasoul Al-Azam hospital.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 24, 2013, on page 1.

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