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Salam, March 8 at odds over Cabinet role
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, HO)
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, HO)
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BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam will hold a second meeting with March 8 officials this week after weekend talks failed to narrow the gap over the makeup of a new Cabinet, political sources said Sunday.

“The meeting between Prime Minister-designate Salam and the March 8 delegation was positive and it could lay the ground for moving forward toward the formation of a new Cabinet,” a source close to Salam told The Daily Star.

However, differences between Salam and the March 8 delegation surfaced when the shape and role of the new Cabinet were discussed.

“The March 8 delegation reiterated their demand for a political government, while Salam expressed his desire for the formation of a nonpolitical Cabinet whose members are not running in the elections,” the source said.

“Salam reaffirmed his stance regarding a new Cabinet by calling for the formation of a homogeneous team.”

Following media reports that Salam was preparing to announce a Cabinet lineup without consulting the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition that backed his appointment as a new prime minister, caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil from MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, former Minister Youssef Saadeh from Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement, and MP Hagop Pakradounian from the Tashnag Party met with the premier-designate at his residence in Moseitbeh Saturday night to discuss the makeup of the new government.

Another meeting between the two sides will be held early this week, a political source said.

Salam tried to reassure the March 8 delegation that the new Cabinet would not include any member whose name might be provocative to anyone or whose name could be interpreted as a spiteful measure, said the source.

“But Salam stressed to the [March 8] delegation that he is not ready to enter into the fray of spoil-sharing,” the source added, in a reference to expected horse-trading by the rival factions over the distribution of key portfolios.

According to the source, the meeting did not touch on the distribution of portfolios, names of potential candidates to the new government or the number of Cabinet members.

Christian sources in the March 8 alliance said the talks with Salam did not make any progress over the makeup of the new Cabinet.

Salam did not change his position on a nonpolitical government, whose members are not candidates for the parliamentary elections, the source said. While renewing their demand for a political government, the March 8 delegation called for a discussion of a new electoral law to go in tandem with Salam’s ongoing efforts to form a new Cabinet, the source added.

Salam, 67, who has won a sweeping parliamentary endorsement as well as backing from regional and international countries for his appointment following last month’s resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, thanked the Lebanese for their support.

“This generous sympathy, of which I am proud, makes me feel with more responsibility in the mission laid on my shoulders and constitutes an incentive for me to work to confront the major national challenge and form a Cabinet of national interest,” Salam said in a statement released by his media office.

Salam, a moderate and independent lawmaker with the March 14 coalition, has said the task of his future government is to supervise the June elections based on a new electoral law.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister MP Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said his bloc would support Salam in his attempts to form a new Cabinet and hold the parliamentary elections.

“Today a new prime minister-designate is forming a Cabinet. He shares with us the same core liberal values and we will give him all the support he needs to succeed,” Siniora said in a speech at a dinner held at former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s residence in Downtown Beirut Saturday night in honor of the participants in the Executive Committee of Liberal International.

“We will help him form a government that revives the true spirit of Lebanon, which is a model for the region and in the world,” he added.

Siniora also said his bloc would seek to hold the elections scheduled on June 16 within the constitutional deadlines, to preserve Lebanon’s democratic system.

“We will fight with Prime Minister-designate Salam to ensure holding the parliamentary elections within the constitutional dates, because we simply cannot accept to put our decades-old democracy on hold at a time when democracy is being fought for in the Arab world with flesh and blood,” he said, referring to the popular upheavals sweeping across the Arab world.

For its part, Hezbollah renewed its call for the formation of a political government. “Amid the regional crises, this country is in need of a political Cabinet par excellence,” MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s 12-member bloc in Parliament, told a rally in the southern village of Khartoum.

“The country does not need a Cabinet that includes people who may be courteous in their work. The representation in any Cabinet should be a political one that leads to a balance to achieve stability in the country,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 15, 2013, on page 1.
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