BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman prodded rival politicians Tuesday to reduce their demands in order to facilitate the formation of a new government badly needed to meet major security and economic challenges.
Sleiman’s plea coincided with a fresh call by the Future bloc for a swift formation of a new Cabinet to halt the economic downturn threatening the country’s social stability.
“The formation of a new Cabinet has become urgent and essential to care for the citizens’ daily lives and social affairs, particularly given that winter is around the corner and the academic year has begun,” Sleiman told visitors in Baabda Palace.
The president said forming a new government would not affect the balance of power between the parties.
“The formation of a new Cabinet will not change anything in the current equations and the situations around us.”
Addressing the March 8 and March 14 camps, Sleiman said: “Politicians must be wary of the delicacy of this stage and resort to reducing their conditions and demands in order to reach an all-embracing government through which all parties participate in shouldering national responsibility to help bolster political stability and security.”
Lebanon is faced with serious threats to its fragile security and stability as a result of the repercussions of the 30-month civil war in Syria.
A wave of Syria-related car bombings that struck Beirut’s southern suburbs and north Lebanon last month, killing nearly 80 people and wounding hundreds, and the threat of a U.S.-led military strike against Syria over an alleged chemical attack sparked calls by political and religious leaders for the formation of an all-embracing government to confront security challenges.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has blamed conditions and counterconditions by the rival factions for the Cabinet stalemate.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have rejected Salam’s proposal for a 24-member Cabinet equally shared by the March 8 and March 14 camps and centrists without granting veto power to any party. The centrists refer to Sleiman, Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.
The Future bloc urged Sleiman and Salam to quickly form a new Cabinet.
“The continued vacuum in the Cabinet would aggravate many problems which cannot be solved without the presence of a government capable of halting the economic and financial deterioration that is threatening social stability and undermining the living standard of the Lebanese,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
The bloc welcomed Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiative to break the six-month Cabinet deadlock and launch all-party talks but said the focus should be on Hezbollah’s arms and its withdrawal from Syria.
“Speaker Nabih Berri’s call for dialogue compliments the bloc’s view, based on the principle of adopting dialogue as a means to find solutions,” the statement said. “The bloc is waiting for the president to set a date to reconvene the National Dialogue Committee along with the formation of a new government headed by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.”“This dialogue should focus on the only remaining item on the National Dialogue Committee’s agenda and any issues related to Hezbollah’s arms, as well as the need for the party to withdraw its fighters from Syria and end its involvement in the fighting alongside the Syrian regime,” it said.
Last month, Berri proposed a five-day conclave of dialogue sessions attended by March 8 and March 14 leaders, in addition to Salam, to address divisive issues, including the makeup and policy statement of a new Cabinet and a national defense strategy. He has dispatched a delegation from his parliamentary bloc to brief top leaders and the main political parties on his initiative.
However, some Future and March 14 politicians have criticized Berri’s proposal, viewing it as an infringement on the prerogatives of the president and the prime minister-designate.
The delegation, comprising MPs Michel Musa, Yassin Jaber and Ali Bazzi, met separately Tuesday with members from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, Jumblatt, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and former President Amin Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party.
Hezbollah welcomed Berri’s initiative.
“The Loyalty to the Resistance bloc fully welcomed the initiative and saw in it an appropriate realistic proposal that allows all political components to discuss its items calmly and responsibly,” said a statement issued by Hezbollah’s bloc after the meeting with Berri’s MPs.
Jumblatt also backed Berri’s call for dialogue and described his meeting with Jaber, Musa and Bazzi as “positive.”
“We agree with Speaker Nabih Berri on the principle of dialogue and we insist on this matter,” Jumblatt told the Voice of Lebanon radio station. “Whatever the circumstances may be, dialogue is far much better than a boycott.”
For his part, Geagea, who had dismissed previous sessions of National Dialogue as a waste of time, was skeptical, saying Berri’s initiative would lead nowhere.
“The story is not that we reject Berri’s initiative, but it will lead nowhere in its present form,” Geagea told a news conference at his residence in Maarab.
The delegation also met with Gemayel and members of the Kataeb parliamentary bloc in Bikfaya. Metn MP Sami Gemayel said his bloc welcomed any initiative aimed at bringing the Lebanese together at one table:
“The break [in ties] among the parties is a loophole that should be plugged with dialogue and contacts. Dialogue constitutes the first door to reaching a solution.”
Separately, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun implicitly lashed out at caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati for refusing to call a Cabinet session to approve two decrees needed to proceed with oil and gas exploration in Lebanon.
“There is no functioning Cabinet today. It refuses to work. It seems we are feeling that there is a conspiracy to prevent Lebanon from extracting its oil,” Aoun told reporters after a weekly meeting of his bloc. “We know who is responsible for calling the Cabinet into session.”
The decrees demarcating the 10 maritime exploration blocks and establishing a revenue-sharing model must be passed by the Cabinet before any oil and gas contracts can be awarded.