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SUNDAY, 20 APR 2014
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Political-technocrat Cabinet on the table
Bassil, Assiri shake hands.
Bassil, Assiri shake hands.
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BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said Tuesday that he was against rushing the process to form a Cabinet, as political sources predicted the government would take shape in early May.

“Yes, I am against rushing [the formation of the Cabinet] but I also do not support a delay because the country is in need of a government and we should preserve the current positive atmosphere,” Salam told reporters after talks with President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace.

Sources close to Salam described his meeting with Sleiman as “positive and satisfactory.”

“They discussed contacts underway to form the government. But the prime minister-designate did not present Sleiman with names of new Cabinet ministers nor did they discuss the makeup of the Cabinet,” one source said.

A political source told The Daily Star that one of the ideas discussed during the consultations between parties was the formation of a mainly technocratic Cabinet with politicians leading key ministries.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, expected that the government would be formed in the first half of May.

The March 8 coalition and their rivals in the March 14 camp are at odds over the shape of the Cabinet. March 8 parties want an all-embracing government in which the main political parties are represented, while the March 14 camp and Salam have reiterated that the new Cabinet should be composed of nonpolitical members because their objective would be to supervise elections.

Speaker Nabih Berri is still consulting with Salam and is against rushing the formation of the government, according to sources who visited him.

The visitors added that Berri believes that Salam still has time to put a government together.

They added that Berri said he would support any electoral law that was a product of consensus, and would hold a very important Parliament session on May 15 to help relevant parties reach an agreement. The speaker is relying on the results of a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with studying various electoral laws.

The subcommittee held a meeting Tuesday, the first in months. Speaking to reporters after chairing the session, MP Robert Ghanem said discussions were positive, adding that the subcommittee would meet again Thursday.

Earlier Tuesday, Salam denied that disagreements over Cabinet had strained his relationship with Berri, and stressed that women would be represented in the new government. He made his remarks to a visiting delegation from the Journalists Union.

Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi also visited Salam.

Meanwhile, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, from Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, met Ali Awad Assiri, the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon.

“Discussions tackled developments in Lebanon and the region,” Assiri told reporters after the meeting. “Gen. Aoun is a major pillar in the Lebanese political arena. Saudi Arabia welcomes communication with all Lebanese, as this serves Saudi-Lebanese interests,” he added.

Ties between FPM and Saudi Arabia, a backer of the Future Movement, have been tense over the past few years.

For his part, Bassil said he conveyed to Assiri Aoun’s greetings to the Saudi people and leadership.

Bassil added that his visit with Assiri reflected their mutual will to communicate in order to preserve Lebanon’s stability.

Former premier Fouad Siniora voiced trust in Salam, saying all political groups should support his efforts to form a nonpolitical government.

“Forming this type of government ... makes it possible to hold elections and it will contribute to defusing tensions in the country,” Siniora said during a visit to Sidon, his hometown.

The Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri criticized “pressure, red lines and conditions” utilized by some political parties to deter Salam in forming a Cabinet, referring to the March 8 coalition.

In a statement after its weekly meeting, the bloc said such conditions could obstruct the prime minister-designate’s mission of forming a government that serves national interests. Aoun said that neither the president nor the prime minister had the right to decide which ministers in the new Cabinet should be running for elections.

“Neither the president nor the prime minister can determine who should be a candidate [for elections] and who should not. Let them respect the Constitution please,” Aoun said after chairing the weekly meeting of his parliamentary bloc.

Asked about media reports that the Future Movement opposed the FPM’s participation in the Cabinet, Aoun said: “For sure a light Cabinet like the one they are thinking of cannot endure the heavy weight of Gen. Aoun.”

Aoun said there was no need to hurry the Cabinet formation, since no agreement has been reached on an electoral law and Salam says his Cabinet’s main mission is to supervise elections.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 17, 2013, on page 1.
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