Lebanon News

Cabinet formation paralyzed

BEIRUT: A two-day break in Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s consultations with the March 8 parties on the formation of a new government has signaled continued deep differences over the distribution of portfolios, sources close to the Cabinet formation talks said Friday.

Meanwhile, sources close to Mikati indirectly blamed Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun for the nearly four-month-long Cabinet deadlock that has thrown the country into power vacuum and paralyzed state institutions.

“The Cabinet formation discussions have not yet reached the phase where we can say that the government’s birth is imminent,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star Friday night.

“The course of the current dialogue signals that there are some, deliberately or indeliberately, who want the current stagnation to continue as if the country is in a state of solid stability,” the source said, apparently referring to Aoun, whose tough demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation in the government have been blamed for blocking the Cabinet’s formation.

There have been no contacts between Mikati and representatives from the FPM, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement led by Speaker Nabih Berri since Wednesday’s meeting failed to iron out differences over the distribution of portfolios among the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and others, including President Michel Sleiman’s share.

Meanwhile, Sleiman called for the formation of a government to carry out long-awaited development projects and approve an election law. He also called for the resumption of dialogue between rival factions to end political divisions in the country.

“We have no choice but to launch a comprehensive and deep dialogue, not only on drawing up a defense strategy for Lebanon, but also on how to proceed with the implementation of the National Accord Pact with the aim of reaching a state where citizens can have full rights,” Sleiman said in a speech opening a sports campus at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut.

He criticized the delay in forming Cabinets. Athough Lebanon is a democratic republic based on the respect of public freedoms and the rotation of power, Sleiman said the rise of the state was still facing difficulties, the most important of which was that it took more than nine months to form three Cabinets.

“The difficulty in forming a government has become a burden at more than one level, with the emergence of more than one hurdle that did not allow the president to take matters toward decisiveness,” Sleiman said.

A source close to Mikati said he was still waiting for answers to “some specific but essential points” he raised during his meeting Wednesday with caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The source scoffed at allegations, made mainly by some March 14 politicians, that Mikati was coming under regional pressure – a clear reference to Syria – not to form the government.

“There is no pressure on Mikati, nor is he waiting for regional signals. We have to set the Lebanese house in order because this will protect Lebanon. This is what friends and brothers expect,” the source said.

Similarly, the source denied media reports that Mikati has abandoned some key portfolios, like the Telecommunications and Energy ministries, to Aoun or that he himself was adamant on this or that ministry.

“Prime Minister [-designate] Mikati has followed a general policy with the president based on the Constitution and traditions in force and on the need for the government to be a homogeneous and productive work team in which no party will have the right to unilaterally decide or obstruct,” the source said.

Mikati met Friday with Sleiman’s political adviser, former lawmaker Nazem Khoury, to review proposals to break the Cabinet impasse.

“The meeting was part of follow-up and coordination between President Sleiman and Prime Minister [-designate] Mikati to accelerate the government’s birth as soon as possible,” Khoury told The Daily Star. He said the Cabinet formation efforts were in race against time, stressing the need for a government to tackle the Lebanese’s economic, social and cost-of-living problems.

“Political pragmatism requires that there should be a political executive authority that puts an end to the state of attrition that has existed for four months,” Khoury said. He added that the Cabinet issue should be discussed as “one package” if any noticeable progress is to be made.

Hopes for the formation of the government rose Wednesday after an agreement was reached to end the row over the Interior Ministry portfolio, which was contested by Sleiman and Aoun. The nomination of retired police officer, Brig. Gen. Marwan Charbel, as a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry, has been approved by all the parties, including Sleiman and Aoun, removing a major obstacle to the Cabinet’s formation.

However, the Cabinet formation efforts have now been stalled over the distribution of the remaining 29 portfolios.

The intensified efforts to break the Cabinet deadlock followed strong Syrian pressure on the March 8 parties to speed up the government’s formation.

Lebanon has been under a caretaker Cabinet since the collapse of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government on Jan. 12 in a long-simmering feud between Hariri and the March 8 alliance over the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Mikati, the Tripoli MP and telecom tycoon, nominated by the March 8 alliance, was appointed on Jan. 25 to form a new Cabinet.

Also Friday, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt renewed his criticism of the new Parliament majority (the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance), blaming them for obstructing the Cabinet’s formation.

In a speech at the opening of a development and rehabilitation center in the Chouf town of Semqanieh, Jumblatt said: “Who is obstructing? They or we the political class?

“You have the right to say that you cannot until this moment offer a minimum of stability, safety and prosperity to form the Cabinet. You are at odds over the country while the country is on the verge of the abyss. We look around and we see around us revolutions and instability in all Arab countries. What’s coming is unknown.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2011, on page 1.

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