Lebanon News

March 8 sees Mikati as likely PM-designate

In this picture released by the Free Patriotic Movement media office, FPM leader Michel Aoun, right, receives secretary general of the Tachnag Party Hovik Mokhtarian, center, and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, left, at his residence in Rabieh, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. (The Daily Star, HO)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati is likely to be renominated for the premiership during parliamentary consultations later this week, a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star Monday.

“So far caretaker Prime Minister Mikati has the best chance to be renominated to form a Cabinet,” the source said, adding that no other competitor would be capable of garnering the majority of votes.

However, the source added, “Things might still change from now until the weekend, but it’s very difficult to make predictions.”

The source was speaking after the March 8 and March 14 coalitions held days of separate consultations over the designation of a new prime minister.

President Michel Sleiman is set to hold parliamentary consultations to nominate a prime minister April 5 and 6.

March 8 senior officials held a meeting to discuss potential candidates, along with the electoral law at the residence of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun in Rabieh.

At hand during the meeting were Hussein Khalil, an aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Wafiq Safa, a senior security official for the party, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, former Minister Youssef Saade, Tashnag Party MP Hagop Pakradounian and caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil.

Sources from Aoun’s bloc said the meeting was frank, with Aoun informing the Hezbollah delegation that he believed Speaker Nabih Berri was conspiring against him by not calling for a Parliament session to put the Orthodox proposal to a vote.

The sources added that Aoun demanded that Hezbollah get assurances from Berri that he would convene a Parliament session. Aoun said he would only take a stance in light of Berri’s response.

During the meeting, Aoun called Berri to inquire after his health, as the latter recently underwent minor surgery. For his part, Berri extended his greetings to Aoun for the Easter holiday.

Though the Hezbollah delegation was scheduled to meet Berri at 6 p.m., they met with Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, the speaker’s aide, instead. Also present were Safa, Hussein Khalil and Amal official Mohammad Baalbeki.

The sources were pessimistic about the results. They said Aoun had set specific conditions to endorse Mikati for the premiership again, but added that the FPM leader would drop these altogether if he felt the March 14 groups could garner a majority vote with their choice.

According to the sources, the March 8 camp believes it is likely that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri will not back Mikati but might not block his nomination.

PSP leader Walid Jumblatt, the sources added, could refrain from selecting any figure if the Future Movement insists on opposing Mikati’s nomination.

Metn MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from Aoun’s bloc, told The Daily Star that discussions during the Rabieh meeting focused primarily on the FPM’s concerns over extending Parliament’s term and the potential lengthy delay in upcoming polls.

“We feel that there are attempts to extend the term of Parliament, and worse, to plunge the country into a political vacuum. This is why we insist on calling for a parliamentary session to discuss a new electoral law,” Kanaan said.

Kanaan said his party prioritized endorsing a new electoral law over agreeing on who would head the new Cabinet. “Cabinets come and go, but the electoral law is the backbone of the country’s political life,” he said.

MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said his party would not mind nominating any “patriotic” figure for the premiership.

“We are open to all options and we won’t veto patriotic figures. As for those who represent outside powers here, we deal with those differently,” Raad said during a memorial event in the south.

The March 8 political parties have yet to agree on which candidate to nominate for the premiership, Raad added.

“Clarity is required from the new government because our country is in need of consecrating its national principles and this formula of strength ‘the Army, the people and resistance.’ The Cabinet should not address national issues vaguely or surrender to the conditions and dictates of others,” Raad said.

Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said that a delegation led by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora that visited Hariri in Riyadh over the weekend has agreed that a neutral Cabinet is needed to supervise elections. Speaking to a local radio station, the Beirut MP said the March 14 groups are in consultation with each other and with Jumblatt, in a bid to agree on a figure to nominate.

“Communicating with Jumblatt is essential because he is a major figure in the Lebanese political formula,” Houri said, adding that Jumblatt’s vote would be the decisive one. – With additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 02, 2013, on page 1.




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