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Lebanon: Formation of New Government Creates Constitutional Conundrum

(Mar. 6, 2014) On February 15, 2014, a new government was formed in Lebanon after more than ten months of political struggle and maneuvering between the Coalition of March 8, in which Hizbullah (also transliterated as Hezbollah) is the most powerful member, and the Coalition of March 14, in which the Future Movement of the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri is the most prominent. One of the many issues that divide the two blocs is the role of Hizbullah as a legitimate national military resistance movement. This disagreement has led to a constitutional issue. (Laila Bassam & Erika Solomon, Lebanon Forms Government After 10-Month Deadlock, REUTERS (Feb. 15, 2014).)

Since its formation, the new government has been unable to agree on whether the policy statement that it must submit to Parliament to win a vote of confidence should acknowledge the unqualified right of the Lebanese people to resist Israel. (Dispute over Policy Statement Overtakes Presidential Elections in Lebanon [in Arabic], ILAF (Mar. 4, 2014); Berry: Position on Resistance Is a Matter of Principle and Not Tactics [in Arabic], AN NAHAR (Mar. 5, 2014).)

Pursuant to paragraph 2 of article 64 of the Lebanese Constitution, the government must submit its policy statement to Parliament within 30 days from the date of its formation and cannot exercise executive power, except as a caretaker government, before winning the parliamentary vote of confidence. (Constitution of Lebanon [in Arabic], as amended through Sept. 21, 1990, Parliament of Lebanon website

The possibility that the government might not be able to agree on and submit a policy statement within the 30-day deadline has raised a constitutional question that does not have a precedent. Should the failure to meet the deadline put the government in the status of having resigned, or could the government continue to try to agree on a policy statement and seek the Parliament’s vote of confidence beyond the deadline, while retaining its caretaker status. (Constitutional Debate About Article 64 [in Arabic], ADDIYAR (Mar. 5, 2014); Geraisaty: Government to Be Considered Resigned If It Does Not Gain the Vote of Confidence Within Thirty Days [in Arabic], ELNASHRA (Mar. 3, 2014).)