Lebanon News

March 8 Cabinet hopes fade

BEIRUT: Despite renewed attempts to reach agreement to break the four-month-long Cabinet deadlock, chances for the formation of a new government soon are at best slim, a senior March 8 source said Tuesday night.

“I am no longer very optimistic about the possibility of the formation of the government soon,” the source told The Daily Star.

The source said Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati met Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri Monday in the presence of two key mediators, MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, to discuss proposals to form the government. Meetings had been held between Mikati and the two advisers separately Sunday.

“No breakthrough was made in those meetings which reviewed the results of previous consultations. The conferees examined points of agreement and disagreement, including a review of the distribution of portfolios in a draft 30-member Cabinet lineup,” the source said.

The meetings addressed in particular Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun’s demand for key portfolios, the source said. He added that Mikati’s proposal for a 14-member Cabinet was nixed at the last minute last week.

A source close to Mikati said Monday’s meeting at Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh was part of ongoing consultations on the formation of a new government. He added that no new ideas were discussed during the meeting to break the four-month-long Cabinet stalemate that has thrown state institutions into paralysis.

Meanwhile, Nasrallah is expected to deliver a televised speech Wednesday in which he is likely to touch on the Cabinet crisis. His speech comes days after Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt blamed Hezbollah for the delay in the Cabinet’s formation.

Aoun, whose tough demands for Christian participation have been largely blamed for the Cabinet impasse, rejected accusations Tuesday that he was obstructing the government’s formation.

“Let [Mikati] say where is the internal obstruction?” Aoun told reporters after chairing a meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc. He called on Mikati to form the government and if he can secure enough votes of lawmakers to go to Parliament to seek a confidence vote.

Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel discussed the Cabinet crisis during a meeting Tuesday with Berri. “The government crisis is the major issue at present. Although there are other problems, like the telecoms crisis, I think attention should be focused now on the formation of the government as soon as possible,” Gemayel said after meeting Berri.

He said once a government is formed, “there will be a responsible authority that can tackle all side issues that are facing us at present.”

Gemayel renewed his call for the formation of an “all-embracing political government” capable of dealing with the internal problems and the repercussions of the popular revolutions in the Arab world.

Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future bloc warned of the deteriorating situation in the country as a result of the failure of the March 8 alliance to form a new government.

“The bloc voiced its deep concern over the worsening conditions in the country as a result of the impasse caused by the March 8 parties’ coup against [Hariri’s] national unity Cabinet and the continuing state of stagnation as a result of the failure to form a new government,” said a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

“While the country sunk in a dangerous and escalating crisis, these [March 8] parties have proved their inability [to form a government] because most of their leaders gave priority to personal narrow partisan interests at the expense of the country’s interest,” it added.

Lebanon has been under a caretaker government since the collapse of Hariri’s Cabinet on Jan. 12 following the resignation of Hezbollah ministers and their March 8 allies in a long-simmering dispute over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Mikati’s efforts to form a new government have thus far failed, but he warned last week that the formation process was not “open ended.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 01, 2011, on page 1.

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