By Hussein Dakroub
Saturday, January 22, 2011
BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt voiced support Friday for Syria and Hezbollah, throwing his weight fully behind the March 8 coalition ahead of a fierce battle for the prime minister’s job with the rival March 14 camp led by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Jumblatt also slammed the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a tool for “political blackmail” that threatens the country’s national unity and security. The STL, which is investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has for months been at the root of tension between the March 8 and March 14 camps that plunged Lebanon into one of its worst political crises.
Declaring that Lebanon stood at “a dangerous crossroads” as a result of the current tension over the STL’s indictment into Hariri’s killing, Jumblatt told a news conference at his residence in Beirut: “I hereby announce the appropriate political position to confront this stage and its complications. The party [PSP] will stand firm in support of Syria and the Resistance.”
Jumblatt’s decision, which is likely to give the March 8 coalition an edge in deciding who will be the next prime minister, marked a major shift of alliance for a politician who once staunchly supported Hariri against Hezbollah. Jumblatt said his decision, which was taken after chairing a meeting of his 11-member parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc, was aimed at preserving stability and avoiding a sectarian conflict.
Jumblatt did not say how many of his MPs would vote for the March 8 coalition’s candidate for the prime minister’s post. But March 14 officials said Jumblatt’s MPs were not united behind their leader.
A senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Friday night Jumblatt has promised that seven MPs of his bloc would vote for the March 8 camp’s candidate.
“The opposition has secured a majority in Parliament. But holding the parliamentary consultations on time remains uncertain,” the source said, adding that there was still time for Arab and international moves to search for a compromise which could lead to another postponement of the parliamentary consultations.
Jumblatt later Friday night met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
The feuding camps are scrambling to muster a majority of votes in the 128-member Parliament ahead of President Michel Sleiman’s binding consultations with lawmakers Monday and Tuesday to poll them on their choices for a prime minister.
The candidate with the most votes will be named prime minister. Hariri and his allies in the March 14 coalition have 60 lawmakers, while Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have 57.
Jumblatt holds the decisive vote in
Parliament with his 11 MPs. With Jumblatt saying that the PSP is committed to supporting Hezbollah, there are at least five lawmakers who are party members and who are expected to vote for the March 8 camp’s candidate to the premiership. There are also some independent lawmakers in the March 14 coalition who have not yet declared where they stood on the premiership issue. The March 8 coalition has declared that former Prime Minister Omar Karami is their choice for prime minister.
Jumblatt’s declaration came a day after Hariri said he would seek a new term as prime minister, defying pressure by Hezbollah and its allies to oust him. Hariri’s national unity Cabinet was brought down last week with the resignations of March 8 ministers in a long-simmering dispute over the STL’s indictment, which is widely expected to implicate some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s assassination.
Hezbollah, which has repeatedly denied involvement in Hariri’s killing, has dismissed the STL as an “American-Israeli tool” designed to incite sectarian strife in Lebanon.
Jumblatt, who has reconciled with Syria and Hezbollah since his withdrawal from the March 14 coalition in 2009, blasted the STL. “The international tribunal has assumed a political dimension par excellence, threatening the national unity and national security,” he said. “This tribunal’s path has become a tool of sabotage and deviated from the path of justice to enter a political bazaar and political blackmail.”
Jumblatt said the Saudi-Syrian initiative on Lebanon had clearly provided for terminating Lebanon’s links with the STL through the cancellation of the cooperation protocol with the tribunal, the halting of funding for it and a withdrawal of Lebanese judges from the tribunal.
Jumblatt said he supported the Saudi-Syrian initiative “because it provided a solution for the current crisis,” adding that it had been endorsed by all the parties, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, Hariri and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Apparently referring to the United States, which was accused by the March 8 coalition of derailing the Saudi-Syrian efforts, Jumblatt said: “International powers did not agree or accept a Syrian-Saudi rapprochement through which an inter-Lebanese settlement could be reached to negate the ramifications of the tribunal and its indictment which is in theory secret, but has been announced by all media outlets. This matter has undermined the tribunal’s credibility and confirmed that it is politicized.”
The PSP leader said that he decided to take “this choice” after the Arab initiative had been thwarted. Jumblatt said that as part of attempts to sabotage the Saudi-Syrian initiative, the STL’s Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submitted a sealed indictment Monday to the tribunal’s pre-trial Judge Daniel Fransen.
Jumblatt’s declaration came a day after Turkey and Qatar abandoned their efforts to a mediate a solution. Saudi Arabia also said this week that it has abandoned efforts to mediate in the Lebanese crisis and warned of a dangerous situation in Lebanon that could lead to the partitioning of the country.
Meanwhile, the French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton called on the Lebanese to respect the Constitution and democratic rules in the formation of a new government after meeting Hariri.
“I reminded Mr. Hariri of the two pillars of the French policy toward his country: Support for the sovereignty, independence and stability of the country on one hand, and the fight against impunity in the framework of international legality on the other hand,” he told reporters.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said in a statement he has postponed a visit to France, scheduled for next week, due to the “worrisome situation” in Lebanon.
Western Bekaa MP Jamal Jarrah of Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that pressure was being exerted on lawmakers so that they would not name Hariri as prime minister. He accused the March 8 camp of failing to comply with the requirements of security and stability.