BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman Sunday criticized political demands hindering the formation of a new Cabinet, saying it was disgraceful that after 10 months efforts had failed to produce a Cabinet lineup.
Speaking to reporters before a St. Maroun Day Mass in Beirut, Sleiman also said he had recently asked France for advanced weapons to help the Lebanese Army become the sole force responsible for countering Israeli aggression.
“We should form a government as soon as possible because it is shameful that we haven’t been able to form a government for 11 months,” Sleiman, surrounded by reporters at the St. Maroun Church in Gemmayzeh, said.
In response to a question about hurdles in the Cabinet formation process, Sleiman asked: “Is insisting on a minister, a condition or a ministerial portfolio more important than Lebanon?”
MP Michel Aoun wants his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to retain his post at the Energy Ministry in the next Cabinet while a recent deal brokered to end the months-long political impasse calls for the formation of an all-embracing 8-8-8 Cabinet with the rotation of ministerial portfolios among others.
The 8-8-8 proposal was part a compromise reached last month by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, the Future Movement and MP Walid Jumblatt in a bid to break the months-long Cabinet deadlock.
Despite the agreement however, Hezbollah has so far failed to convince Aoun to drop the demand for retaining the Energy Ministry but has also warned Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam not to go ahead with a Cabinet lineup that risks a boycott by the Free Patriotic Movement.
During his brief chat with reporters, Sleiman said Lebanon should prove to the world that it is able to form a government and hold elections, adding that there were no legitimate reasons to postpone constitutional deadlines.
Sleiman also spoke about the international support for the Lebanese Army embodied in the recent Saudi grant to the military and an upcoming conference in Italy.
“The Army should be able to confront foreign aggression and Israel, to maintain the security situation and combat the proliferating phenomenon of terrorism,” Sleiman said.
He also said Italy would hold a technical conference in April to support the Lebanese Army.
“I met with [French President Francoise] Hollande and I told him that we wanted quality arms for us to [be able to] confront Israel so that the Army can be the sole force on the ground confronting Israel,” Sleiman said.
Saudi Arabia has granted Lebanon $3 billion to buy weapons from France to strengthen and arm the military.
“There is an international keenness to back the Army which coincides with a domestic atmosphere to support the military represented in the Baabda Declaration ... a [draft for] a national defense strategy as well as Bkirki’s National Charter,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassim said the resistance group had become an inextricable component to Lebanon.
“The resistance has become part of Lebanon’s [existence]. Lebanon cannot exist without its resistance because the latter has given the country its strength and immunity,” Qassem said at a ceremony in the Beirut suburb of Ouzai.
“The project of the resistance completes the project of a sovereign, independent Lebanon,” he added.
“So long as Israel exists, the resistance exists. So long as Israel occupies and threatens, the resistance is ready to liberate and defend. We cannot commit to any other formula,” he said.
Commenting on the Cabinet formation process, Qassem advised Sleiman and Salam to exert more efforts to pave the way for the birth of an all-embracing government.
“We have called for a government that does not exclude anyone. Isolating parties does not work, neither does marginalization,” he said, adding that a Cabinet not in accordance with the National Pact would only disrupt the state and constitutional deadlines.
"We advise the president and the prime minister-designate to exert genuine and intensive efforts toward an all-embracing government,” he said.
“This [all-embracing government] is the only accomplishment and everything else is failure,” he said.