Lebanon News

Talks on Cabinet formation resume after latest suspension

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati resumed consultations with representatives from the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance on the formation of a new government Tuesday night as Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun accused President Michel Sleiman and Mikati of collaboration to keep the country in a power vacuum.

Tuesday’s meeting came after a six-day suspension of talks on the Cabinet’s formation between Mikati and MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Speaker Nabih Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

“The meeting was part of the consultations on the Cabinet’s formation. Prime Minister Mikati reiterated his demand for parliamentary blocs to provide him with lists of names they propose for the Cabinet,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star.

He said “new ideas” were discussed during the meeting. “The atmosphere is positive but there are no final or decisive results,” the source said.

According to the source, Mikati reaffirmed his position that he was open to all contacts to break the nearly four-month-long Cabinet deadlock by adhering to his constitutional prerogatives.

Mikati made the demand during last week’s meeting with the two advisers along with caretaker Energy Minister Jibran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law. That meeting failed to iron out differences over the distribution of portfolios among the March 8 alliance and others, including Sleiman’s share.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Mikati was told that Aoun upheld his demands, including his insistence that his bloc be allotted five Cabinet seats for Maronites out of his share of 10 portfolios, sources close to the formation talks said.

Earlier Tuesday, Aoun blamed Sleiman and Mikati for the Cabinet impasse, saying the government formation efforts were back to square one.

“There is nothing new on the government. We are still at square one. We have solved the Interior [Ministry] problem, but we are back to square one. It seems there is no will to form [the Cabinet],” Aoun told reporters after chairing a meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.

He said Sleiman and Mikati bore responsibility for the state of paralysis in the country because they failed to act to form a new government.

“I ask them why don’t they form the government? Power is in their hands. I accuse them of collaboration so that the country can remain paralyzed,” Aoun said.

Aoun said Mikati, who was backed by the new Parliament majority, should act to form the Cabinet. “Why doesn’t he want to form the government? He has the majority and he has the power. We want to know who is obstructing [the process],” he said.

Asked if Hezbollah was mediating to break the Cabinet impasse, Aoun said, “There are no new initiatives.” Aoun’s remarks came amid difficulties Mikati is facing in his attempts to form a government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet.

Hopes for the formation of the government rose last week 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 involved.

Meanwhile, Hariri’s Future bloc accused the March 8 alliance of lacking “political competency” to run the country after failing to form a new government.

A statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting said the March 8 parties have plunged the country into “a crisis of the formation of a one-sided government” as a result of their struggle over the distribution of portfolios.

“The predicament these parties have reached and the [verbal] attacks launched sometimes against each other and against the prime minister-designate and the president at another, indicate failure, a lack of vision and a lack of political competency … to assume responsibility,” the statement said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the only solution for the Cabinet crisis was the formation of a government of technocrats.

“The only and serious solution for the crisis is the formation of a technocrat government,” Geagea told reporters at his residence in the Kesrouan town of Maarab. He questioned why the March 8 alliance has failed to form a government. “What are they waiting for after four months? They cannot form a government as they want. They don’t accept a government to at least run the citizens’ affairs.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 18, 2011, on page 1.

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