Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese politicians called for Hezbollah to be excluded from any future government, ahead of former finance minister Mohamad Chatah’s funeral on Sunday. Chatah had been a staunch critic of both the Syrian government and Hezbollah, with many viewing him as a likely future prime minister until his assassination in a car bombing in central Beirut on Friday
Local media reported that the liberal March 14 Alliance has called for Hezbollah to be excluded from any future government, with many holding the Shi’ite militia responsible for Chatah’s assassination.
Chatah, 62, and a Sunni Muslim, was critical of both Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and served as an adviser to former prime minister, Saad Al-Hariri.
Chatah’s assassination comes three weeks before a long-delayed opening of a trial of five Hezbollah suspects indicted for the Febuary 2005 bombing which killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father, and 21 other people.
Hariri implicitly pointed the finger at Hezbollah in the wake of the assassination of his former aide. “The ones who run away from international justice and refuse to appear before the international tribunal,” he said, were responsible for the assassination.
A source close to Lebanese prime minister-designate, Tammam Salam, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the issue of the formation of the government had now “heated up,” and that any talks would now be centered on “forming a government which will take care of the public’s interests and security issues.”
The source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that “all efforts have been exhausted to find a common formula,” adding that Salam viewed the March 25 deadline for the formation of a government as a “red line.”
“Democracy should not be held back for anyone’s sake,” the source said.
Lebanon has been without an elected government for more than eight months, being ruled by a caretaker cabinet led by interim Prime Minister Najib Mikati. Prime minister-designate, Tammam Salam, has been unable to form a cabinet since his appointment in April, the longest any appointee has held the post without forming a government.
The source also said: “It is no longer acceptable for the country to remain without a government amid the worsening security situation, the latest episode of which is the murder of Chatah. This leaves the country exposed and allows those who plan terror attacks to exploit the situation.”
Neither the liberal March 14 Alliance nor the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance are in a position to win the confidence of two-thirds of parliament outright, which is needed to form a government according to Lebanon’s constitution. Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party traditionally serves as the tie-breaker in Lebanon’s complex political calculations.
Jumblatt responded to demands made by the Future Movement, the largest member of the March 14 Alliance, and led by Saad Al-Hariri, for a government that excludes Hezbollah. He urged all parties “to avoid sedition” and called for a “solution which achieves the formation of a national unity government” which included all political parties.
Speaking on Sunday, head of the Future Movement Fouad Siniora vowed to confront the presence of illegal arms in Lebanon, a clear reference to Hezbollah.
Speaking at Chatah’s funeral in central Beirut, he said: “The March 14 coalition has decided to free the nation from the occupation of illegitimate arms so we could protect our independence and guarantee our sovereignty and civil peace.”
“We say to the Lebanese people and the family of Mohamad Chatah: We will not surrender, back down, or fear criminals, terrorists and murderers. They are the ones who should be in fear.”
The investigation into Chatah’s assassination remains ongoing, with the case being referred to the highest judicial authority in Lebanon, the Judicial Council for Investigation.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told Asharq Al-Awsat the authorities had decided to conduct the investigations “in secret” so as not to allow any information to be leaked to the media.