Lebanon premier considering resignation

Tammam Salam postponed a crunch cabinet meeting set for Tuesday amid a growing political divide.

Tammam Salam. (AFP/Faisal al-Tamimi)

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s premier has been considering stepping down from his post amid a political crisis over the procedure of the paralyzed cabinet’s work that has forced him to postpone a crunch cabinet meeting set for Tuesday.


Talk of Salam resigning picked up pace after the cabinet on Thursday failed to yield a solution over its working mechanism, with the Free Patriotic Movement insisting that no issues be brought up on the government’s agenda without its approval, while the premier has sought to maintain his constitutional right to set the agenda.


The government’s work has been paralyzed by the political feud and as a result it has not been able to tackle a number of pressing issues, most important the garbage crisis that has seen trash pile up in Beirut and Mount Lebanon ties after the Naameh landfill was closed down in mid-July.


Following Thursday’s inconclusive meeting in which ministers agreed only to hold another session on Tuesday, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi—a leading member of the Future Movement—said that Salam had confirmed that “all options are on the table.”


A number of press outlets soon began circulating stories regarding the possibility of the premier’s resignation, with LBC television reporting Saturday that “the Lebanese government is witnessing decisive hours ahead of Salam’s decision over resigning.”


An unnamed minister told the station that Salam was “seriously considering resigning” while another minister said that the premier had received a number of contacts urging him to put off the decision to avoid political vacuum.


Amid the growing reports, Hezbollah’s leader opined on the matter during a speech Saturday night in which he warned against the fall of Lebanon’s government.


“We stand by the government; hence, do not fail it with your own hands, for taking the country into a state of void is a dangerous game and an irresponsible act,” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said.


Reports of an impending step down had reached such a fever pitch Saturday that rumors had spread that Salam had already submitted his resignation, a claim that Salam’s press office had to deny.


Meanwhile, pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported Monday that Western powers, including the US, have grown concerned over the potential of Salam’s resignation and have worked to dissuade him from stepping down.


“Doomed meeting”


On Tuesday morning, Salam postponed the cabinet session scheduled for later in the day to allow more time for dialogue to resolve the political impasse regarding the cabinet's decision making process.


Social Affairs Minister Rachid Derbas—an independent Sunni from Tripoli who serves as one of Salam’s personal cabinet appointees—on Monday had warned that the upcoming cabinet meeting originally set for Tuesday was “doomed.”


“Salam is a patient person and knows how to shoulder responsibilities, but he knows what action to take if he reached a dead end,” the minister told Free Lebanon radio.


The previous day Derbas had met with Salam, after which he told the press the premier would “announce his final decision at the right time.”


Meanwhile, State Minister Nabid de Freij told Voice of Lebanon on Monday that the cabinet atmosphere was “not positive,” adding that the “waste crisis could be a reason for the cabinet's resignation.”


The upcoming cabinet meeting, now scheduled for Thursday morning, comes amid a growing rift between the FPM, which is a leading party in the March 8 coalition, and Premier Salam.


On July 9, the FPM held a protest outside the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut as the cabinet met for an acrimonious meeting that saw a testy exchange between Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a minister representing the FPM, and Salam.


Despite the heated atmosphere of the meeting, FPM leader MP Michel Aoun said he was content that an agreement was reached to discuss the cabinet’s working mechanism, after he had previously called on his supporters to take to the streets in mass protests after the government passed a decree on agricultural exports when the FPM wanted to discuss security appointments.


The FPM leader’s bellicose calls to action were followed by increasingly heated rhetoric by top officials in the party, which insists the cabinet resolve the issue of appointing a new army chief to replace Jean Qahwaji when his term ends in late September.


Aoun supports the candidacy of his son-in-law, LAF Commando Regiment chief Chamel Roukoz; while his political rivals have accused the FPM of obstructing governance with its demand.


The FPM leader last Thursday again launched a broadside at Salam, who his party in recent weeks has described as an “ISIS-like” ruler attempting to usurp Christian rights.


“The premier's behavior must be brought under control,” Aoun told LBC in an interview.


The March 8 party has insisted that since there is no elected to president to represent the Christians of Lebanon it has the right to suggest issues for discussion in the cabinet agenda.

Tammam Salam. (AFP/Faisal al-Tamimi)

Salam is a patient person and knows how to shoulder responsibilities, but he knows what action to take if he reached a dead end.