Lebanon News

Mikati still waiting for Cabinet lists

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati is still waiting for the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition to provide him with lists of names they propose for the government so that he can present a final draft Cabinet lineup to President Michel Sleiman, a source close to the Cabinet formation talks said Monday.

This comes amid signs that Sleiman will not approve any one-sided government that could be presented by Mikati, official sources said.

“For nearly two weeks, Mikati has been waiting for responses from parliamentary blocs to provide him with lists of names of their candidates for the new Cabinet. But so far no responses have come,” the source told The Daily Star.

The source declined to give the reasons for the Amal Movement led by Speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah, and the Free Patriotic Movement led by MP Michel Aoun not responding to Mikati’s demand. Mikati renewed the demand during last week’s meeting with MP Ali Hassan Ali, a political adviser to Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

But a behind-the-scenes meeting that took place at the weekend between Mikati and the two advisers failed to yield to any breakthrough.

A new round of consultations is planned for this week between Mikati and the two advisers, with the chances of reaching a deal to break the four-month-long stalemate being slim given the wide gap between Mikati and Aoun over the distribution of portfolios in a 30-member Cabinet make-up.

Aoun upheld his tough demands, including his insistence that his bloc be allotted five Cabinet seats for Maronites out of his share of 10 portfolios, a source close to the formation talks said.

The Cabinet formation crisis has reached an unacceptable limit after all efforts to reconcile the viewpoints within the new Parliament majority have failed to reach any results taking into account all the blocs’ demands and the requirements of the Constitution, official sources said.

The sources did not rule out the possibility of Mikati presenting a one-sided government by the end of this week if his efforts failed to make progress. But Sleiman will not approve such a government because it lacks the needed national consensus, the sources said. The sources rejected the argument about “the president’s share” in the Cabinet, saying ministers named by Sleiman should be viewed as “neutral ministers.”

Mikati has been struggling since Jan. 25 to form a new government. Hopes for the formation of the government rose earlier this month 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.

However, visitors to the Presidential Palace said Sleiman had felt serious attempts to thwart the agreement on Charbel by putting new conditions on it – a clear reference to Aoun.

Meanwhile, the Kataeb Party reiterated its call for the formation of a national salvation government to face threats arising from popular uprisings in the Arab world. A statement issued after a meeting of the party’s politburo voiced concern over the “dangerous vacuum” in the country.

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams again called after meeting Sleiman and Berri for a swift formation of the government.

“With both the President and with Speaker Berri, I expressed our strong belief that the sooner a new government was formed, the better. There are many problems before Lebanon – problems of economy, problems of security – and these problems are growing, they grow by the day,” Williams told reporters.

“We also believe that now opportunities are being lost, for example the maritime resources. These issues can only be tackled by the formation of a new government, which I believe to be in the best interest of the Lebanese people,” he said. – With additional reporting by Antoine Ghattas Saab

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 24, 2011, on page 1.

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