BEIRUT: The Future Movement and its March 14 allies reject the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance’s plan for a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup and demand instead the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan government as a way out of the Cabinet deadlock, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Thursday.
Siniora’s remarks come as a Hezbollah MP declared that the 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal, which grants veto power to both the March 8 and March 14 camps, was the only way to break the stalemate, now in its seventh month.
They also coincide with Speaker Nabih Berri’s renewed call on the rival parties to return to dialogue as the only means to resolve the monthslong political crisis, deepened by national divisions over the war in Syria and Hezbollah’s military intervention there on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Siniora said the Cabinet crisis was ongoing, with no breakthrough on the horizon, adding that the Future Movement’s stance on the shape of the new government had not changed.
“Our position on the Cabinet formation has not changed. We support the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan government that does not include representatives from the March 8 and March 14 parties,” Siniora told The Daily Star.
Asked to comment on a statement by Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad in which he said that no new Cabinet could be formed unless it was based on the 9-9-6 formula, Siniora, the head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said: “We don’t agree to the 9-9-6 proposal.” He added that this was also the stance of the Future Movement’s March 14 allies.
Siniora said that while upholding their demand for a neutral government, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies were ready to accept the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal if it was endorsed by President Michel Sleiman.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, who was named on April 6 to form a new Cabinet, has complained that the “jungle of conditions and counter-conditions” set by the rival factions was delaying the government’s birth.
He has proposed a 24-member Cabinet lineup equally divided by the rival factions and centrists.
The centrists refer to Sleiman, Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.
The Hezbollah-led 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 pushing for the 9-9-6 proposal.
In a change of heart last week, Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, voiced support for the 9-9-6 Cabinet formula, saying that the 8-8-8 formula which he had initially proposed had collapsed.
Siniora said he would meet again with Berri in the next few days to continue discussion of the Cabinet crisis as well as the speaker’s initiative.
Berri has proposed a five-day conclave of National Dialogue sessions attended by March 8 and March 14 leaders, in addition to Salam, to address contentious issues, including the makeup and policy statement of a new Cabinet and a national defense strategy.
But some Future Movement and March 14 politicians have rejected Berri’s proposal on the grounds it infringes on the prerogatives of the president and the premier-designate.
Siniora’s rejection of the 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal came hours after Hezbollah’s Fayyad said that no government could be formed if not based on the 9-9-6 formula.
“We are going through a waste of time for which the Lebanese are paying its price from their own pockets. But eventually there will be only a 9-9-6 Cabinet,” Fayyad told a graduation ceremony in south Lebanon.
“Whoever thinks otherwise is delusional and will sooner or later wake up from his illusions,” he said.
Referring to a March 14 demand to exclude Hezbollah from the next Cabinet in response to the party’s military intervention in Syria, Fayyad stressed that no one could keep the resistance out of the government.
“The resistance is a reality that cannot be overlooked neither locally nor regionally,” he said. “No matter how some may try to marginalize [the resistance] or level accusations against it, facts eventually impose a recognition of it and acknowledging its role locally and regionally.”
For his part, Berri stressed that dialogue was the only way to resolve the political crisis, urging the March 8 and March 14 parties to benefit from the resumption of talks between Iran and Western states over its nuclear program.
“We should draw lessons from what happened, is happening and will happen in Geneva that the shortest way to address any divisive issue, whether major or minor, is through dialogue and diplomacy,” Berri said in a statement.
Berri expressed his satisfaction with the positive atmosphere that dominated Iran’s negotiations with the West on its nuclear program.“What happened so far amounts to a victory for Iran’s diplomacy in administering its sovereign and strategic files, at the forefront of which is its right, like any other country, to possess a nuclear technology for peaceful purposes,” he said.
Earlier this week, Iran launched a new round of talks about its nuclear weapons with the six world powers, namely the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, in Geneva.
Separately, Berri Wednesday called former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to wish him well, a day after the Future Movement leader underwent a successful surgery in Paris. Berri also extended Eid al-Adha greetings to Hariri.
Hariri broke his left leg in January 2012 while skiing in the French Alps. Tuesday’s operation in the French capital saw the removal of pins placed in his leg following the accident. Hariri’s physician said he would remain at the hospital in Paris for a two-week recuperation period.
Jumblatt, in Paris for medical tests, said he called Hariri Wednesday and conveyed his wishes for his speedy recovery. “I arrived in Paris Sunday for medical tests ... My visit to France is only for treatment and convalescence and does not include any political meetings,” Jumblatt told LBCI TV Thursday. He said he was seeking treatment for back pain in the French capital.
Jumblatt’s phone conversation with Hariri comes amid tension with the Future Movement, which has accused the PSP chief of abandoning his centrist position and joining the Hezbollah alliance after supporting the 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal.
Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said Christian unity was the key to national unity and Lebanon’s salvation.
“As a Christian representing a large segment of the Christians, I call on them [Christians] to unite to face this crisis,” Aoun told reporters after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki Wednesday.
“If this [Christian] unity is achieved, it will definitely lead to a Lebanese unity ... We will then reach the road to salvation,” he added.