Lebanon's chances of having a government dealt fresh blow

Posted in Broader Middle East | 15-Jul-05 | Author: Adnan El-Ghoul| Source: The Daily Star (Lebanon Edition)

BEIRUT: The chances of Lebanon having a working government this week received a fresh blow last night. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose parliamentary bloc was expected to be in the Cabinet, slammed plans by Premier-designate Fouad Siniora to form a government of technocrats, unconnected to party affiliations.

Jumblatt warned he would not cooperate with a government which contained what he called "non-political" ministers and that his parliamentary bloc of 16 MPs would vote against it.

Siniora, who was unavailable for comment following Jumblatt's criticism, had decided on a cabinet of technocrats following a meeting yesterday with President Emile Lahoud, who was in favor of the idea.

Siniora said: "After running out of options we have come to the last option, which is [ministers] from outside Parliament."

He added: "In a meeting with Lahoud, I proposed forming a government of non-party figures who come from outside parliament but who enjoy the confidence of the legislature's main blocs."

Siniora said: "I was working for a technocrat lineup parallel with preparing the political lineup. All I have to do is to add the last touches and continue from where I stopped. The situation the country is facing requires a homogeneous government free of the infighting that characterized the era of the late Rafik Hariri."

But other parties object to forming a government controlled by the parliamentary majority insisting it is against both the country's Constitution and Taif Accord.

The head of the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, South MP Mohammad Raad, said: "We, in Hizbullah, have no issue with the number of cabinet ministers, but with the policy that tries to force the will of a parliamentary majority over the will of the majority of the Lebanese people."

Raad added: "Whether the government was formed from political, technocrat or neutral elements, we want it to confront the urgent challenges facing the country and gain the trust of the people."

Lebanon has been without a proper functioning government since last year. A succession of interim governments presided over the country before the May-June elections.

But following the landslide victory of Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition groups in the election, they have failed to form a government, leaving Lebanon in a political limbo.

It emerged in news reports from the United States that Washington blamed Lahoud for Lebanon's continuing political paralysis.

A report in Nahanet said: "U.S. officials have expressed embarrassment and concern over attempts by President Lahoud and his political allies to hamper the formation of the Lebanese government by manipulating public apprehensions, hiding behind constitutional privileges and making incessant impossible conditions."

In Beirut a U.S. Embassy spokesperson told The Daily Star: "Given the strong Parliamentary support for the designation of Fouad Siniora as prime minister, the United States hopes that a cabinet can be formed as quickly as possible. This will enable the government to start work on the economic and political reform program called for by the Lebanese people. The international community stands ready to assist Lebanon to move forward on reform but cannot do that until a cabinet has been formed. For that to happen, we hope the president, the speaker of Parliament and the prime minister-designate will all use their constitutional roles to accelerate the process and not undermine the efforts of others."

The spokesperson added: "One should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The Lebanese, with so many contrasting ideas about what constitutes a perfect cabinet, risk lose the momentum for reform altogether."