BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri commended in remarks published Monday former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s efforts in facilitating the formation of a new government while the prime minister-designate set Jan. 20 as the most likely date for the birth of the new Cabinet.
“The atmosphere is good with regard to the formation process and [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri is exerting tremendous efforts to form a new Cabinet and he not only accepted the 8-8-8 lineup but also contributed to the elimination of obstacles,” Berri told An-Nahar.
The speaker also said that Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was the first to propose rotating ministerial portfolios by party and sect, a chief demand by the March 14 coalition.
"I supported that and told him that such a rotation should be based on fairness and inclusion," Berri said.
Hopes for the formation of a new Cabinet emerged last week after Berri and MP Walid Jumblatt campaigned for an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup in which the March 8 and March 14 camps would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted to each side from the remaining eight ministerial portfolios designated for centrists.
Although the Future Movement and its allies in the March 14 group have yet to decide on the proposed lineup, Future parliamentary bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Sunday that the Cabinet formation attempts were moving on the right track.
The Future Movement has demanded answers to five questions centering mainly on the government’s policy statement, a March 8 demand for veto power and the rotation of ministerial portfolios – key contentious issues that could scupper the ongoing Cabinet formation negotiations.
Hezbollah has voiced support for the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, abandoning a previous government proposal in which each coalition would be granted veto power.
Speaking to An-Nahar, Salam expressed annoyance by the complete lack of trust between the rival groups and noted that restoring such trust would take a long time.
Salam also revealed that Jumblatt had asked him and President Michel Sleiman to give time for consultations before embarking on the formation of a neutral Cabinet as the pair had planned.
Sleiman has said that he and Salam would form a neutral, fait accompli Cabinet if rival groups fail to agree on an all-embracing Cabinet where all political parties are represented.
In separate remarks, Salam said that Jan. 20 was a likely deadline for the birth of a new government.
Berri told An-Nahar that such a deadline was aimed at speeding the formation process.