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Hurdles hinder all-embracing government

  • 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: Several issues need to be resolved before Lebanon can have an all-embracing government, in spite of earlier progress achieved after deliberations, a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Friday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said rival political parties had yet to reach an agreement over the policy statement of the new Cabinet and on the question of veto power.

The source cited the reluctance of the Lebanese Forces to join a government in which Hezbollah is included as another key obstacle.

But he added that the March 8 and March 14 alliances had agreed on the principle of rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects.

The March 8 coalition and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt have proposed a Cabinet lineup of 8-8-8, in which the March 14 and the March 8 camps would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted for each camp among the remaining eight centrists. This would effectively grant the rival camps veto power in the government.

The March 14 coalition rejects the inclusion of a clause in the policy statement of the new Cabinet which states that Lebanon has the right to liberate its Israeli-occupied territories with the “Army, people and the resistance.” Mentioned in the policy statements of previous Cabinets, the clause effectively legitimizes Hezbollah’s arsenal.

Instead, the March 14 parties propose the inclusion of the Baabda Declaration in the policy statement. The pact, agreed upon by rival groups in June 2012, calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly the war in neighboring Syria. Hezbollah violated the pact when it announced last year that it was fighting alongside the Syrian army.

Speaker Nabih Berri said he preferred the content of the policy statement be discussed after the new government is formed.

The March 14 coalition also argues that neither coalition should have veto power.

But another political source was more upbeat, saying progress had been made during deliberations to form a government. He said there was an 80 percent chance that an all-embracing Cabinet would emerge.

Both sources said discussions had yet to tackle potential ministers and the portfolios they would manage.

For his part, President Michel Sleiman said former Prime Minister Saad Hariri had sent “positive signals for going ahead with the formation of an all-embracing government based on the 8-8-8 formula.”

Sleiman told LBCI television station that Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam had the answers to five questions raised by the Future Movement, centering mainly on the government’s policy statement, a March 8 demand for veto power and the rotation of ministerial portfolios. The group said it was waiting for answers from the March 8 coalition before deciding whether to join an all-embracing government.

But Sleiman warned that he would sign a decree to form a new government within 10 days if rival groups failed to reach consensus on a national unity Cabinet.

“I want and I encourage the formation of an all-embracing government. But if there is no consensus over an all-embracing government within 10 days, then there will still be a new government,” Sleiman said.

He added that the visit former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was expected to pay to him Saturday as part of efforts to reach consensus over the make-up of the new Cabinet.

Future Movement MP Nuhad Mashnouq said earlier Friday his party was still waiting for answers to the questions his group had presented.

“The Future Movement has yet to receive clear, frank and precise answers on the questions it presented the March 8 coalition with over the Cabinet formation process,” Mashnouq told LBCI.

Mashnouq, who is in France, said he had been tasked by Siniora to fly to Paris in order to discuss with Hariri the five questions the Future Movement had advanced.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 11, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

Several issues need to be resolved before Lebanon can have an all-embracing government, in spite of earlier progress achieved after deliberations, a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Friday.

The March 8 coalition and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt have proposed a Cabinet lineup of 8-8-8, in which the March 14 and the March 8 camps would each get eight ministers, with "decisive ministers" allotted for each camp among the remaining eight centrists.

Sleiman told LBCI television station that Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam had the answers to five questions raised by the Future Movement, centering mainly on the government's policy statement, a March 8 demand for veto power and the rotation of ministerial portfolios. The group said it was waiting for answers from the March 8 coalition before deciding whether to join an all-embracing government.


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