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Berri warns of power vacuum if government not formed soon
File - Speaker Nabih Berri speaks at his Ain el-Tineh residence in Beirut on Saturday, August 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)
File - Speaker Nabih Berri speaks at his Ain el-Tineh residence in Beirut on Saturday, August 31, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)
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BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri has warned that Lebanon might slip into a power vacuum if no government is formed before next year’s presidential elections, a member of his parliamentary bloc said Friday.

“Speaker Berri has sounded the alarm bell about the possibility of the country falling into a [power] vacuum if no government is formed soon,” Tyre MP Ali Khreis, who belongs to Berri’s parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc, told The Daily Star.

“Berri is saying there is a chance now to resolve the Cabinet crisis with the formation of a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup being the best proposal. But the other side [March 14] has rejected this proposal because it is waiting for signals from outside the country,” he said.

Khreis was commenting on Berri’s remarks in which the speaker sounded downbeat about breaking the 8-month-old Cabinet deadlock. Berri was quoted by a local newspaper Friday as saying that the chances of forming a new government were fading.

“The chances of having a new government by the end of the month are virtually nil. Chances are receding day after day,” Berri said. “Thereafter, the only talk, starting at the beginning of the new year, will be presidential elections.”

According to Khreis, Berri had unsuccessfully tried to persuade former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the head of the parliamentary Future bloc, when the two met at the speakers’ residence in Ain al-Tineh last week, into accepting the 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup as the best formula to break the deadlock.

“But Siniora was not positive toward this proposal and instead called for the formation of a neutral government,” Khreis said.

Future MP Ammar Houri said his bloc upheld its demand for forming a neutral, nonpartisan government.

“The bloc’s position on the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan government has not changed,” Houri told The Daily Star. “We reject the 9-9-6 Cabinet formula because it would grant the two sides [March 8 and March 14] veto power. We are against the principle of veto power in any Cabinet.”

The 9-9-6 formula, initially proposed by Berri, calls for allotting nine ministerial posts to each of the March 8 and March 14 camps, and the remaining six portfolios to centrists. The centrists refer to President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has blamed Saudi Arabia for the Cabinet crisis, arguing that Riyadh blocked the formation of a new government through its March 14 allies.

But the Future Movement and its March 14 allies have said Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria and its commitment to the Baabda Declaration were essential for any Cabinet partnership.

Future has launched a campaign aimed at facilitating the election of a new president to succeed Sleiman, whose mandate expires on May 25, 2014.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said dialogue between rival factions was needed to resolve the crisis.

“There is no escape from dialogue at all levels ... We in Lebanon will not give up our responsibilities imposed on us by the country’s political circumstances and the region’s circumstances,” Mikati said at the opening of the Arab International Book Fair at the BIEL complex. “There is no room for pessimism in our hearts.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 07, 2013, on page 1.
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