BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman Saturday urged rival political parties to make mutual concessions over the formation of national unity Cabinet, a day after he gave MPs a short period of time before vowing to move ahead with the establishment of an alternative Cabinet.
Also Saturday, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said his party had yet to take a decision on whether to join an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 formula.
“I hope the political rivals will succeed in light of the recent positive atmosphere to reach a consensus over forming a national unity Cabinet that can address citizens’ daily and social needs and confront the difficulties s of the upcoming phase, especially the challenges at the regional level,” Sleiman said.
The president, according to a statement from his office, also said rival groups needed “to make mutual concessions for the interest of the nation through a government that can win the confidence of Parliament and the Lebanese.”
The statement from the Presidential Palace came shortly after talks between and Sleiman and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
A Future Movement source told The Daily Star that the meeting at Baabda Palace served as “an introduction aimed at getting answers” to questions the party had put forward before taking any decision on an 8-8-8 Cabinet line-up.
“Other meetings are set to follow today’s [Saturday’s] meeting,” the source added.
The formation process, which has been stalled since Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was nominated in April, has in recent days seen a flurry of political activity aimed at ending the deadlock.
The March 8 coalition and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt recently put forward 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.
Mediation efforts by Jumblatt and Berri at promoting the 8-8-8 Cabinet line-up are aimed at averting the possibility of the formation of a neutral government, a scenario that Hezbollah has warned against.
The Future Movement is seeking answers to five questions over the 8-8-8 Cabinet line-up: the shape of the next Cabinet; the issue of the blocking third, or veto power; the policy statement; rotation of all ministerial portfolios; and the right of the president and the prime minister-designate to a “fair veto” to reject any name proposed.
While noting positive signals from Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri on the formation of an all-embracing Cabinet based on the 8-8-8 formula, Sleiman Friday warned political rivals that the time for reaching a consensus government was running out.
“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.
The March 8 and March 14 camps have come to an agreement on the principle of rotating key ministerial portfolios among the sects, a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Friday.
While voicing support to the idea of rotating ministerial portfolios, Speaker Nabih Berri, in comments to An-Nahar newspaper Saturday, said the mechanism used needed to be fair.
“I support the rotation of ministerial portfolios as long as the process is carried out evenly between everyone,” the leading March 8 figure told the daily.
He also voiced readiness to give Sleiman the right to select the fifth Shiite minister in the next Cabinet.
“I shall bear full responsibility in going ahead with the 8-8-8 formula even if [Amal and Hezbollah] do not get to name the fifth Shiite minister who would be affiliated to President Sleiman,” the speaker said.
The senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Friday that issues that needed to be resolved to secure an all-embracing Cabinet included agreement over the policy statement and on the question of veto power.
The source also cited the reluctance of the Lebanese Forces to join a government in which Hezbollah is included as another key obstacle.
The Future Movement source said Saturday that although the LF had reservations on taking part in a Cabinet including Hezbollah, the party would abide by any decision taken by the March 14 coalition.
“There was a meeting between the March 14 leaderships to discuss the option of taking part in a Cabinet with Hezbollah. The Lebanese Forces have some reservations but they do not reject such an option totally,” the source said, referring to a three-hour meeting held at Center House Friday in Beirut.
In comments to Al-Jadeed television Saturday, Geagea said that Hariri "has still not made a final decision over the Cabinet or convinced me into taking part in it."
LF MP Antoine Zahra, in an interview with LBCI, said despite differences in the March 14 alliance, the decision on whether to join a national unity Cabinet or not would be left to the coalition as a whole.
“Nobody [in the March 14] has agreed to anything yet,” he told the LBCI television channel. “After the discussions are over, the choice of the March 14 coalition will be one.”
Zahra said the LF’s main concern was over the ministerial statement, stressing that it should include the Baabda Declaration – a pact among rival political leaders to distance Lebanon from the Syria crisis.
The pact was breached last year when Hezbollah announced it had sent members of the party to fight with the regime of President Bashar Assad against Syrian rebels.
Earlier this week, Berri said he preferred the content of the policy statement be discussed after the new government is formed.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah reiterated its demand for a national unity government, warning that the creation of a fait accompli government – its term for a neutral Cabinet – would jeopardize the upcoming presidential election.
“We repeat our call not to fall into the trap of a fait accompli government because it will paralyze upcoming constitutional deadlines and throw the country into further chaos, paralysis and division,” Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi said, in an apparent reference to the upcoming presidential election.
Sleiman’s six-year-term in office expires on May 25.
Musawi stressed that even though the Constitution invested in the president and prime minister-designate the power to form the next government, the executive branch needed to reflect “fair” representation of sects in the country.
“For this reason, we call for the formation of a unity Cabinet based on the principle of just representation as stipulated in the Constitution and the Taif Accord,” he said, speaking during a ceremony commemorating the recent deadly bombing in the southern suburbs of Beirut.