BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam ruled out Friday a solution to the Cabinet crisis soon, saying increased conditions set by the rival political factions were delaying the formation of a new government.
Salam’s gloomy assessment, which heralds a long period of power vacuum, comes as the Future Movement is pushing for the formation of a neutral government as a way to break the Cabinet deadlock, now in its seventh month, while MP Walid Jumblatt voiced support for the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance’s proposal for a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup.
Salam met with President Michel Sleiman to brief him on the outcome of ongoing contacts aimed at forming a new government. He said afterward that he had nothing to declare about the Cabinet formation.
“The Cabinet formation is an urgent matter to face the new developments. I have nothing new to say that will raise hope for the Cabinet formation,” Salam told reporters at Baabda Palace after meeting Sleiman.
“We are still facing a lot of obstacles, and sometimes I feel as if no progress has been made and no obstacles have been eliminated. And if we listen to some stances and statements [by rival politicians], we immediately get the impression that some political parties concerned [with the Cabinet formation] do not want to facilitate this matter. Consequently, conditions and obstacles are stepped up,” he said.
Despite the hurdles facing his mission, Salam, who was named on April 6 to form a new Cabinet, vowed not to step down. He said he would pursue his efforts to form a Cabinet following the three-day Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins next Tuesday.
Salam’s attempts to form a Cabinet have been bogged down by conflicting conditions set by the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup of the government. He has proposed a 24-member Cabinet lineup equally divided by the rival factions and centrists. The centrists refer to Sleiman, Salam and Jumblatt.
The March 8 alliance has rejected Salam’s 8-8-8 Cabinet formula, which denies them veto power and calls for the rotation of key portfolios among parliamentary blocs. Instead, it is pressing for a 9-9-6 proposal.
But the Future Movement and sources close to Salam have rejected the 9-9-6 formula because it gives veto power to the rival parties.
As a way out of the Cabinet stalemate, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the Future parliamentary bloc, was reported to be promoting an old March 14 proposal for the formation of a neutral government that would exclude both the March 8 and March 14 parties.
“The formation of a neutral government is the best solution for the Cabinet deadlock,” an aide to Siniora told The Daily Star. He said Siniora had repeatedly asked Sleiman and Salam “to exercise their constitutional powers” by forming a new Cabinet.
Asked to comment on calls for a neutral government, Salam said: “All formulas are still under discussion and all possibilities are open for me.”
But Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, threw his weight behind the 9-9-6 Cabinet formula, saying it was the best solution for the rival factions.
“The 9-9-6 formula is the best solution for all the parties and will not lead to one specific party dominating the government,” Jumblatt said in an interview with As-Safir newspaper Friday.
Noting that the 9-9-6 formula had been suggested by Speaker Nabih Berri, he said: “I have become convinced of this formula. It’s true that I had adopted the 8-8-8 formula, but this formula has collapsed.”
Jumblatt said he opposed the formation of a fait accompli Cabinet because such a government would represent “a challenge to the Shiites.”