BEIRUT: Deliberations to form Lebanon’s new government are expected to drag on until next week amid a new push to bolster Christian representation in the Cabinet.
President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam put the final touches on the Cabinet lineup during their meeting at Baabda Palace Wednesday evening, a source close to Salam told The Daily Star. Sleiman is traveling to Tunisia Friday to attend a ceremony celebrating the adoption of the new Tunisian constitution.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from the Progressive Socialist Party, also discussed efforts to form the new government with Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah intensified efforts to persuade Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun to accept the principle of rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects.
Aoun argues that the principle of rotation is unconstitutional and aims only at stripping his party of the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, the PSP and the Future Movement agreed last month on forming a national unity Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup and on rotating key ministerial portfolios.
Some March 8 parties are also trying to convince their ally Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh to keep his minister in the new Cabinet even if Aoun’s ministers resign in protest against denying the FPM the Energy Ministry.
Lawmakers attending the weekly meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri quoted him as saying his stance on the Cabinet depended on whether it respected the National Pact on power-sharing among sects. Berri added that the Cabinet formation process should not be rushed.
A source close to Berri told The Daily Star that if Aoun’s ministers resign from the new government while ministers loyal to Sleiman, the Kataeb Party and the Marada Movement remain in their posts, then the speaker would consider the government to be legitimate as it would include Christian representation in accordance with the National Pact. The source said that in such an event, Berri would not ask his ministers to resign from the Cabinet.
The lawmakers said that during the meeting, Berri dismissed media reports that Parliament would no longer be able to legislate as of March 25, which marks the start of the constitutional period to elect a president. The speaker said this applied only for the last 10 days prior to the expiry of the president’s term. Sleiman’s term expires on May 25.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Wednesday that electing a new president on time was a necessary condition for the survival of the state.
“Electing a new president as the new head of state and protector of the Constitution within the legal time frame and without any debates over the constitutionality [of the process] is a primary condition without which there will be no state or future,” Rai told a news conference at Bkirki while announcing a National Charter drafted by the Maronite Church.
The patriarch said the paralysis of state institutions had turned every constitutional deadline into an existential crisis rather than an opportunity for democracy that would ensure a smooth transition of power.
“The best examples of this are the failure to agree on a fair electoral law, failing to hold parliamentary elections on time [which led] to extending Parliament’s term, the inability to form governments within a reasonable period, and fears of a vacuum in the presidency,” Rai said.
Parliament extended its term for 17 months last June after rival parties failed to agree on a new election law. The extended term expires in November.