Prime Minister Najib Mikati tried to play down the escalating crisis threatening the solidarity of his Cabinet saying he hoped a controversial draft law to develop Lebanon's electricity infrastructure would be passed quickly.
Mikati, who returned Saturday from visits in Tripoli, Anarka, and Saudi Arabia, told reporters ministerial discussions over a draft bill to produce 700 megawatts were “constructive.”
“A constructive discussion is taking place over the electricity issue in a bid to provide electricity in the best way, in compliance with regulations and with full transparency,” Mikati said.
Mikati voiced hope in the finalization of an agreement before the Cabinet’s next meeting, scheduled for September 7th.
The electricity bill, which would see $1.2 billion allocated to the Energy Ministry to build power plants capable of producing 700 megawatts, revealed divisions in the Cabinet between the Free Patriotic Movement and Mikati's Progressive Socialist Party.
The draft law was forwarded to Parliament by FPM leader Michel Aoun before it was returned to government for further study due to concerns over the absence of regulatory procedures.
Aoun has repeatedly threatened to withdraw his ministers from the Cabinet if the draft bill is not approved as proposed by his son-in-law, Energy Minister Jibran Bassil.
“Despite the Eid al-Fitr holiday, we will follow up on the issue and, God willing, on September 7, things will be finalized and have matured,” Mikati said.
A potential schism in Mikati's government could topple his government. Forming the cabinet took six months of in-the-trenches haggling and, once formed, the ministers almost missed a deadline to draft the government's agenda - which would have led to new elections.
Scratching the Surface
The March 14 coalition voiced its opposition to the electricity bill, arguing the plan allocates a large amount of funds to one minister with no oversight. Mikati has demanded the creation of a regulatory body to oversee the execution of the draft law if it is approved.
But the power-play in Beirut is only the latest point of dispute between Mikati's Hizbullah-backed government and opposition leaders
Future Movement Secretary-General and Sidon MP Ahmad Hariri went on the offensive Saturday with a scathing verbal assault against Mikati, describing him as a “man who betrayed the people who brought him to power.”
“You wanted to become a leader but know that you will never get the leadership. Not today or in 1,000 years because you simply turned against the will of those who brought you to Parliament. You turned against the will of your people and the people of your country,” Hariri said.
Hariri said that by attempting to obstruct the work of the UN-backed tribunal investigating late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination, the Hizbullah-dominated government was moving in the opposite direction of the movements in the region seeking justice and freedom.
Hariri added that the government was siding with Syria’s authoritarian regime, rather than supporting the righteous demands of the Syrian people, in order to please its Hizbullah masters.
“You came out and spoke about keeping Lebanon [neutral]. Do you want to isolate Lebanon from its Arab surroundings? Do you want to isolate Lebanon in the interest of a murderous regime in Damascus, Homs and Hama?” Hariri asked.
Legitimizing Political Assassination
Beirut MP Nouhad Mashnouq, a member of the Future bloc, launched his own attack Sunday, accusing Mikati’s government of legitimizing political assassination.
“This government is in place to legitimize assassination. It includes representatives of Hizbullah, whose [members] include the four accused in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. This government is acting like it was tasked with the protection of the accused rather than their arrest,” Mashnouq said.
Ziyad al-Qadri said Hezbollah’s media campaign would fail to protect the accused men, whom the court would eventually arrest. “They are better off taking the legal procedures rather than carrying out political and media campaigns, which will not acquit any suspects,” Qadri said.
Qadri held President Michel Sleiman and Mikati responsible for any deterioration in the security situation, accusing Mikati’s government of endorsing the rise of a Hizbullah mini-state at the expense of the Lebanese state.
“Say whatever you want to say and scream as much as you want but justice is waiting for you in The Hague,” West Bekaa MP Jamal Jarrah said.