Lebanon News

Salam rebuffs Jumblatt’s new Cabinet proposal

File - Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Thursday, April 11, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra)

BEIRUT: Walid Jumblatt’s proposal for a three-eight Cabinet lineup has failed to make a breakthrough in the nine-month deadlock after it was rebuffed by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, political sources said Sunday.

The sources said that a March 14 proposal for a neutral, nonpartisan government has not been entirely dropped by President Michel Sleiman and Salam despite last week’s car bomb in Beirut’s southern suburbs that killed four people and wounded more than 70.

The March 14 coalition, meanwhile, stood firm on its demand for the formation of a neutral Cabinet whose members do not belong to any political parties.

“Our position is still the same: a nonpartisan government that does not include representatives of any political party,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star.

Asked to comment on media reports that Speaker Nabih Berri and Jumblatt were seeking to float a three-eight Cabinet proposal in which the March 8 and March 14 camps would have a decisive minister, Siniora said: “This proposal will bring us back to square one.”

Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said that so far, no one has approached him on any new Cabinet proposal. “There is no clear-cut [Cabinet] proposal yet,” he said.

Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, met separately Saturday with caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, and Wafik Safa, a senior security official in Hezbollah, to discuss ways of resolving the Cabinet crisis.

He later met Salam for dinner at the latter’s residence in Moseitbeh.

During the meeting, Jumblatt proposed a three-eight Cabinet lineup in which the March 8 and March 14 factions would have a decisive minister. Under his proposal, the March 8 and March 14 parties would each have eight ministers plus one minister each from the remaining eight ministerial portfolios allotted to centrists.

But Salam did not react favorably to this proposal, the sources said.

At this point, Jumblatt renewed his warning to Salam against forming a neutral Cabinet, the sources added.

MP Akram Shehayeb, a member of Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, said the PSP leader was seeking to reach agreement between the rival factions on a new Cabinet in order to avoid a vacuum in the presidency when Sleiman’s six-year-term in office expires on May 25.

“Any Cabinet based on a consensus among the Lebanese is better than a [presidential] vacuum,” he told MTV Sunday night.

Political sources warned that if Berri’s and Jumblatt’s efforts failed to convince Sleiman and Salam to form an all-embracing government before March 25, “Lebanon would definitely go to the unknown.”

Berri had warned that a fait accompli government would ruin the chances of the presidential election.

The sources said any Cabinet that did not represent all the political parties would not be able to stop any military flare-up or sectarian fighting and provide a political cover to the Army.March 14 parliamentary sources said that when Sleiman promised a new Cabinet before March 25, he was seeking to save Lebanon from a power vacucum into which March 8 groups, particularly Hezbollah, were trying to push.

Political sources said what mattered now was not the shape of the Cabinet, but an attempt to rescue the country before it was too late.

“Lebanon now needs someone who can halt the political deterioration, which began with the extension of Parliament’s mandate and the failure to form a Cabinet,” a political source said.

“With the failure to elect a new president, we will be destroying the roof, thus leaving the nation without windows, doors or a roof,” he added.

Referring to the wave of car bombings that struck various areas in Lebanon, the source said: “Lebanon seems to be facing clear terrorism represented in the bombings to kill the largest number of civilians, in addition to assassinating Lebanese figures.”

Berri, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have warned against the formation of a neutral, nonpartisan Cabinet, which they called a fait accompli government. They have demanded a 9-9-6 Cabinet formula representing all the political parties as a way out of the deadlock. The March 14 coalition had rejected this formula, insisting on a neutral Cabinet.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai blamed the two conflicting political parties for the wave of car bombings that rattled the country recently and called for dialogue to resolve the crisis. “Aren’t these bombings and attacks enough to shake their consciences to engage in a frank and clear dialogue to settle their disputes and put an end to the car bombs?”

Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi urged Sleiman to refrain from signing the decree of a fait accompli government that he said would partition Lebanon. “Such a government will lead to the partition and disintegration of Lebanon and push it into the unknown.”

Separately, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri received a phone call from the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly.

They discussed the latest developments in Lebanon and the region as well as the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 06, 2014, on page 1.




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