BEIRUT: The Future Movement Wednesday demanded answers to five questions before accepting a new Cabinet proposal based on an 8-8-8 lineup, centering mainly on the government’s policy statement and a March 8 demand for veto power – two divisive issues that could unravel the ongoing Cabinet formation negotiations.
Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq, who spelled out the conditions during an interview with Future TV, said his bloc could not adopt a final stance on the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal before it received clear answers to these questions.
“We are a political party that represents half of the country. We have not yet received answers to the five questions,” Mashnouq said.
He said that the Future bloc has sent questions to those involved in the Cabinet formation process, including Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, concerning: the shape of the government; a blocking third, or veto power; the Cabinet’s policy statement; rotation of all ministerial portfolios; and the right of the president and the prime minister-designate for “fair veto” to reject any name proposed.
“These questions will [determine] our position on the Cabinet proposal,” Mashnouq said. “So far, we have not received answers to these questions.”
He dismissed media reports claiming former prime ministers Saad Hariri and Fouad Siniora, head of the Future bloc, had voiced their support for the 8-8-8 proposal.
“Both of them [Hariri and Siniora] will not agree to the Cabinet proposal before we have answers to the five questions,” Mashnouq said.
“Since we did not get answers, there is no rush or acceptance [of the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal].”
Mashnouq’s remarks come amid a flurry of intensified political activity aimed at breaking the nine-month deadlock over the 8-8-8 proposal in which the March 8 and March 14 camps would each get eight ministerial portfolios and possibly an additional “decisive minister” from the remaining eight ministries allotted to the so-called centrists. Centrists refer to President Michel Sleiman, Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.
Mashnouq reiterated the March 14 coalition’s firm rejection of granting veto power to Hezbollah and its March 8 allies in the new Cabinet.
Asked if his bloc would accept the idea of “a decisive minister” as a way to circumvent a March 8 demand for veto power in the Cabinet, he said: “We will not accept a blocking third, be it implicit or explicit.”Likewise, Mashnouq said the Future bloc would not accept Hezbollah’s tripartite equation “The Army, the people and the resistance” currently enshrined in the caretaker Cabinet’s policy statement.
He called for this controversial equation to be replaced by the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the conflict in Syria.
“‘The Army, the people and the resistance’ equation is entirely out of the question,” he said. “The Baabda Declaration should instead be adopted.”
Mashnouq said his bloc had not yet received answers on the rotation of all ministerial portfolios.
He added that the Future’s March 14 allies had not yet decided on whether to accept or reject the 8-8-8 Cabinet formula.
Voicing skepticism about an 8-8-8 Cabinet being able to resolve the monthslong political crisis, Mashnouq called for the formation of a small Cabinet of seven or 14 leading politicians to save the country, which is facing serious threats to its security as a result of the 33-month war in Syria.
Earlier Wednesday, the parliamentary Future bloc reiterated its demand for a nonpartisan government, while Speaker Nabih Berri warned again of the negative consequences of a fait accompli government, saying that contacts were ongoing to narrow differences between the March 8 and March 14 parties over an 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal.
“Contacts are ongoing with regard to the Cabinet formation,” lawmakers who attended the weekly meeting at the speaker’s residence in Ain al-Tineh quoted Berri as saying.
Berri, according to the MPs, was seeking to bridge the gap between the rival factions over the new 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal.
“We are positive and patient in the face of obstacles. We will continue our efforts until the end,” Berri was quoted as saying.
He warned against forming a neutral government without the approval of the political parties – an option held out by Sleiman if no agreement is reached on an all-embracing Cabinet.
The Future bloc renewed its demand for forming a new Cabinet whose members do not belong to political parties.
In a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by Siniora, the bloc again called on Sleiman and Salam to form “a nonpartisan Cabinet in order to open the road for the needed breakthroughs and clear the way for it to deal with Lebanon’s worsening and urgent security, economic and social problems.”
“The other contentious issues can be referred to the National Dialogue table,” the bloc said in a clear reference to the divisive issues of Hezbollah’s arms and the party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The Maronite bishops also called for forming a new Cabinet capable of facing the serious security challenges threatening Lebanon.
In a statement following their monthly meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, the bishops urged the feuding parties to protect citizens from the wave of car bombings that struck Lebanon recently.
“Lebanon is poised for a constitutional event, the election of a new president. The bishops appeal to political leaders and all deputies to shoulder their responsibilities and speed up the formation of a government capable of facing the current challenges,” the bishops said.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said after meeting Salam that the international community was keenly interested in the formation of an effective government in Lebanon.
“Lebanon is passing through a dangerous time and the security, humanitarian and economic challenges are very great,” he said, urging the rival parties to engage positively with Salam to facilitate the Cabinet formation.