Hamadeh Describes to STL Syria-Hariri Race for Power
MP Marwan Hamadeh told the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Thursday that during the months that preceded ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination in Feb. 2005, Syria sought to grant former President Emile Lahoud “all powers” at a time when Hariri worked on forming an anti-Damascus opposition in hopes of winning the general elections.
“Lebanon was a parliamentary system, which was being shifted by Syria into a presidential system, whereby Lahoud - a Syrian candidate and a Syrian representative - was grabbing all powers,” Hamadeh told the STL Trial Chamber.
“All other actors in Lebanon's political system were becoming secondary actors … All other institutions were reduced to stooges,” the lawmaker stated on his fourth day of testimony at the court that is trying five Hizbullah members in absentia in Hariri's killing.
Hamadeh, who resigned from the cabinet along with three other ministers following the extension of Lahoud's term in September 2004, said his resignation was in compliance with an agreement reached with Hariri.
The ministers were Fares Boueiz, and Hamadeh, Ghazi Aridi and Abdullah Farhat -from the Democratic Gathering bloc of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat.
Hamadeh's resignation letter along with the other members of the bloc included a statement that it was “impossible to participate in bearing the responsibility to what had happened.”
Hariri and the parliamentary majority voted for the extension of Lahoud's term until November 2007 after Syrian President Bashar Assad threatened he would “smash Lebanon” over his head.
The former president, who had been the army commander, was first elected for a six-year term in 1998.
Hamadeh said that after the appointment of interim minsters following the resignations, Hariri was eager to “appease” the Syrian feelings, telling ambassadors that U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 should not provoke further Lebanese divisions.
The resolution was adopted in September 2004. It called on "foreign forces" to withdraw from Lebanon and non-Lebanese militias to disband.
Pro-Syria officials at the time said there was a direct link between the extension of Lahoud's term and its adoption.
The lawmaker revealed that Hariri and his allies then “worked on forming a popular and parliamentary opposition” to the extension and the continued “Syrian occupation of Lebanon” that was aimed at “imposing major political decisions on Lebanon.”
“We also tried to put a platform to the (parliamentary) elections which were planned for the spring of 2005 … We tried to change things,” said Hamadeh.
Hariri used to call the pro-Assad MPs, who were the parliamentary majority back then, “Syrian submarines,” said the lawmaker.
Hamadeh said there was heavy influence by Damascus in the election of lawmakers during the Syrian hegemony over Lebanon.
He added that Syria had repeatedly asked Hariri and Jumblat to add to their electoral lists pro-Syrian candidates to guarantee a majority of lawmakers allied with Damascus.
The forced extension and the Syrian dictates prompted Hariri to begin putting long-term plans for the spring elections in hopes of clinching the majority in parliament.
He sought hard to form a “moderate cabinet” that represented most parties in Lebanon, said Hamadeh. The former premier wanted a government that would be able to “limit tension” and guarantee his personal safety.
Hamadeh said his assassination attempt forced an end to Hariri's efforts to find an “acceptable balance” in a new cabinet.
The car bomb blast that targeted the lawmaker in October 2004 was considered to be the start of a series of killings and murder attempts of anti-Syria Lebanese politicians and journalists.
But Hamadeh said that the alliance formed by Hariri and known at the time as the “Bristol Gathering” began to grow when other anti-Syrian officials, including the so-called Cornet Shahwan gathering of Christian figures, joined the fight against Damascus' role in Lebanon.
It was a time of “democratic uprising” and an “era of the battle of the opposition until the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri,” he said.