BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati vowed Thursday to spare no effort aimed at accelerating the formation of a new government in order to put an end to more than four months of power vacuum and paralysis of state institutions.
Mikati’s remarks came as the Cabinet stalemate has entered its fifth month with no solution in sight, amid deepening differences between the prime minister-designate and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun over the distribution of portfolios in a draft 30-member Cabinet lineup.
“My approach toward forming a government is based on preserving stability, preventing strife, upholding the constitution, which is the guarantee for all of us, and bolstering the national economy,” Mikati said in a statement after meeting a delegation from the Beirut Merchants Association at his residence in Verdun.
“I recognize that the Lebanese are wondering about the reasons behind the delay in forming the government, and they are right. But what I can tell you today … is that I will study and discuss all initiatives and options based on the constitution, norms and principles,” Mikati said.
He added that once a new government is formed and after winning a vote of confidence from the Parliament, “our firm choice will be to cooperate with everyone, whether the new majority or the opposition.”
“We will also cooperate with the employers and workers whom we consider as a one united team in the productivity sectors,” Mikati said. He added that his first priority is to establish a stable, well-trusted climate to attract investors.
Mikati was appointed on Jan. 25 by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance to form a new government, after March 8 ministers resigned from Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet, forcing its collapse on Jan. 12.
Businessmen, members of Hariri’s caretaker Cabinet and March 14 politicians have sounded the alarm bell about the deteriorating economic conditions in the country, urging a swift formation of a new government to cope with domestic and regional challenges.
The head of the Beirut Merchants Association Nicolas Shammas, who attended the meeting with Mikati, said that the sector was facing major challenges and merchants were no longer able to continue under such conditions.
Mikati’s remarks came as consultations on the Cabinet’s formation are in limbo. A war of words that erupted Tuesday between Mikati and Aoun has further complicated the Cabinet formation efforts. Aoun’s accusations that Mikati was intentionally delaying the formation of the government were rejected by sources close to the prime minister-designate.
“The government formation process is marking time. There have been no contacts [between Mikati and the March 8 alliance] this week,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star Thursday.
The source had said that Mikati was still waiting for the March 8 parliamentary blocs to come forward with lists of names they propose for the government so that he can present a final draft Cabinet lineup to President Michel Sleiman.
The same source also said Mikati had made his demand for the lists of names two weeks ago when he met with caretaker Energy Minister Jibran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, Marjayoun-Hasbaya MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Speaker Nabih Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Mikati, rejecting Aoun’s accusation that he is to blame for the delay in the government’s formation, is now working on some Cabinet formulas to present to Sleiman, another source close to the premier-designate said.
The source said if the parties concerned, including Sleiman, did not approve Mikati’s Cabinet proposals, including one calling for the formation of a small Cabinet to be expanded later, the prime minister-designate would urge all these parties to shoulder their responsibilities.
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.
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. The nomination of retired police officer Brigadier Marwan Charbel as a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry, has been approved by all the parties. – With additional reporting by Hassan Lakkis.