BEIRUT: The Future Movement scrambled Tuesday to address reservations by two major Christian parties over the formation of a Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup, as sources close to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam spoke of a major breakthrough in the nine-month government stalemate.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri consulted by phone separately with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Metn Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel on latest developments concerning the Cabinet formation efforts.
During their one-hour phone conversation, Hariri and Geagea stressed the need for March 14 unity, particularly on the Cabinet formation, the National News Agency reported.
It said Hariri also praised Geagea’s speech Monday in which the LF chief reiterated his opposition to an all-embracing Cabinet that includes Hezbollah, saying such a government would fail to confront local and regional challenges.
A source close to Salam said “a real breakthrough” had been made in the monthslong crisis, effectively clearing the way for the formation of a Cabinet in the next few days.
“The political atmosphere is generally positive. Fine-tuning over the [Cabinet’s] policy statement is going on after the problems of a blocking third [veto power] and the rotation of ministerial portfolios have been solved,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source said former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who met Salam Monday following talks with Speaker Nabih Berri, had conveyed the Future Movement’s “positive stance” on the proposed 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup.
He added that the Future Movement was working to overcome the March 14 coalition’s reservations over the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour returned Tuesday from a two-day visit to Riyadh after talks with senior Saudi officials on the Cabinet formation efforts.
The Daily Star’s attempts to reach Abu Faour were unsuccessful. But Al-Jadeed TV said Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc carried with him good news that Saudi Arabia did not object to Hezbollah’s participation in the new government.
The March 14 coalition has opposed Hezbollah’s participation in the Cabinet in response to the party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The coalition has called for a neutral, nonpartisan Cabinet in the face of repeated demands by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies for an all-embracing government.President Michel Sleiman urged the rival political factions to benefit from the current opportunity to form “a balanced government” under the proposed 8-8-8 formula.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel sounded optimistic about the Cabinet formation bid.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Berri at Ain al-Tineh, he said: “We discussed the Cabinet issue. I understood from him that everything is going on in a good and normal manner and so far there are no obstacles.”
Berri and Siniora also sounded upbeat regarding the government formation efforts.
“I would like to say a few words about the meeting [with Berri]. It was good and useful. We will continue consultations. We are moving forward on the right tracks,” Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, told reporters after meeting Berri in Ain al-Tineh Monday.
Shortly after Siniora spoke, local TV stations quoted Berri as echoing Siniora’s remarks that their meeting was positive.
Optimism about resolving the Cabinet crisis climaxed a flurry of intensified political activity aimed at bridging the wide gap between the March 8 and March 14 parties over the shape of the government.
Clearly, the two sides had eventually to compromise in order for a deal over the Cabinet to be reached. While the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance dropped its demand for veto power and its rejection of the rotation of key ministerial portfolios, the March 14 coalition budged on its refusal to join Hezbollah in a new Cabinet before the party withdraws its fighters from Syria.
Berri and Jumblatt have spearheaded the political campaign to promote an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, in which the March 8 and March 14 parties would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted for each side among the remaining eight ministerial portfolios set for centrists. This would effectively grant the rival camps veto power in the government.
However, Geagea stood firm on his opposition to an all-embracing Cabinet that includes Hezbollah.
Speaking at a rally at his residence in Maarab commemorating slain former Minister Mohammad Shatah, Geagea welcomed the launch this week of the trial by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon of four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The wave of assassinations, bombings and threats on a daily basis and the economic collapse necessitate the formation of a homogenous, effective Cabinet capable of making decisions to restore security and calm and lift Lebanon from this decline,” Geagea told the rally attended by a number of March 14 lawmakers.
“The only government that can do that should be led by one party and in the right direction. But the other [March 8] team insists on a Cabinet of national partnership, meaning a government led by two conflicting teams which in turn makes a nongovernment,” he said.