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The Blocking the Third and Fissures in March 8

June 15, 2009

So long as consensus emerges within March 14 over Nabih Berri’s continuation as Speaker of Parliament, consultations both within and between the Majority and Opposition will center around the composition of the next government during the coming days.

Some in the March 8 Coalition have already staked out clear positions.  For example, Suleiman Franjieh said that, “The Opposition will not participate in any government that does not include a blocking third.” Moreover, General Aoun suggested that the relative composition of the Cabinet amongst the disparate factions should “proportional” to each faction’s respective share of Parliamentary seats. 

Shia leaders of the Opposition have been much more measured and vague in recent days.  Mohammad Raad calls for:

 تكون المرحلة المقبلة مرحلة تعاون وعودة إلى معادلة التناغم بين المقاومة ومشروع بناء الدولة، التي أرسيت على مدى 15 عاماً

The next stage is to be a stage of cooperation and a return to the equation of harmony between the Resistance and the project of building the state that held firm for 15 years.

Neither Nasrallah nor Berri have staked out an explicit position on the matter.  On Sunday, al-Hayat reported the following:

وتسجل أوساط مراقبة وأخرى من 14 آذار، أن الثنائي الشيعي في المعارضة حركة «أمل» بزعامة بري و «حزب الله»، لم يعودا يتحدثان عن الثلث المعطل على رغم أن فرنجية قال إن هذا موقف جامع للمعارضة بالاتفاق مع «حزب الله» وبري

وتفيد المعلومات أن النقاش الأولي الحاصل في دوائر محصورة يشير الى أنه مقابل إنهاء البحث بمطلب الثلث المعطل للمعارضة، فإن فكرة إعطاء هذا الثلث لرئيس الجمهورية ميشال سليمان ليس منطقياً لأنه يجب عدم تكريس هذا المطلب المخالف للدستور.

وذكرت مصادر واسعة الاطلاع لـ «الحياة» أن بديل هذا الثلث المعطل ربما يكون في ضمانات تعطى لـ «حزب الله» حول عدد من القضايا، التي يهم الحزب أن تكون موضوع تفاهم بينه وبين الرئيس سليمان وبينه وبين رئيس الحكومة العتيد والأطراف الرئيسة في الحكومة، قبل طرحها على مجلس الوزراء، أي ألا تعتمد صيغة التصويت عليها داخل الحكومة قبل حصول التفاهم خارجها على هذه القضايا

Observers and others in March 14 noted that the two Shia groups in the Opposition, the Amal Movement led by Berri and Hezbollah, are no longer talking about the blocking third despite the fact that Franjieh said that this is the position for all of the Opposition with the consent of Hezbollah and Berri.

Information states the preliminary discussion, happening in limited circles, indicates that in exchange for ending discussion of the demand of the blocking third for the Opposition, then idea of giving this third to President Michel Suleiman is not logical, as this unconstitutional demand must not be established.

Informed sources mentioned to al-Hayat that the alternative to this blocking third may be in guarantees given to Hezbollah on a number of issues that the party is concerned be the subject of mutual understanding between it and between President Suleiman and between it and the Prime Minister and factions of the government before it is put before the Council of Ministers.  In other words, the form to be voted upon within the government would not be set before reaching understanding on the issues outside of it.

Nevertheless, while this approach sounds like it could avoid the political deadlock of the past four years by dealing with the tough issues ex ante, it  risks prolonging the process of forming the government. 

For its part, March 14 continues to categorically reject the notion of the blocking third’s post-Doha relevance.  In Egypt, Fouad Saniora labeled the experiment with the blocking third “unsuccessful” and argued that it was a “limited and temporary” treatment to the violence of May 2008.  Meanwhile Boutros Harb explicitly rejected giving the President a blocking third, stating that the President effectively has such a veto power by his ability to decide whether or not to sign the decree approving the formation of the government.

The Majority seems to be unwavering in its demand that the notion of the blocking third be discarded.  More to the point, if the al-Hayat report is correct, then it is the Opposition who blinked first.  The lack of a unified March 8 position suggests that tensions are evident between its Christian and Shia groups.  In the face of a popular repudiation of incorporating the state into the resistance, the Party of God may be keen to reach some sort of modus vivendi with March 14.  For now Berri will be content to continue as Speaker of Parliament.  However General Aoun’s source of authority is his claim to leadership of the Christian community, a mantle called into question by last week’s electoral outcome.  While Hezbollah may be satisfied with credible “guarantees” for the resistance, Aoun must translate the size of his Parliamentary Bloc into a significant stake in the government or he risks marginalization.

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