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Mikati prepared to lead new, inclusive Cabinet

FILE - Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, salutes upon his arrival at the parliament building where the lawmakers meet to vote for the government confidence, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Tuesday he was ready to head a “national salvation government” as part of a “full package deal” in the event he was designated to form a new government.

“I am not laying conditions [for my return] here,” he told The Daily Star. “I am only outlining the factors of success for any new government regardless of whether I head it or not.”

Although he was still unsure whether he would garner enough nominations from MPs to secure a third term in Cabinet, Mikati seemed amply confident that he was one of the few figures “who can unite the Lebanese,” revealing that after his designation in January 2011, he spent nearly three months convincing the March 14 alliance to join his Cabinet.

“Hezbollah is quite aware of my position regarding [the resistance] and March 14 know that I am a March 14er even more than [the coalition] is maybe,” Mikati said.

Earlier this year Mikati announced his candidacy for the parliamentary polls in his hometown of Tripoli during a television interview. At the time he said he categorically refused to head the Cabinet that would oversee elections.

But now that all indicators point to elections being postponed, Mikati’s stance looks to have softened.

“It really depends on whether the term of the Parliament will be extended or not and for how long,” he said. “The objectives of the new government will determine my decision.”

“If, let’s say, the life span of the new Cabinet is three months and its responsibility is to organize polls I will not head it,” he added. “I have political ambitions, I am not going to lie to you.”

Mikati pointed out that his decision to resign was strictly tied to domestic issues rather than influenced by external factors or players, saying that the high chance of the parliamentary elections – originally scheduled for June 2013 – not taking place on time was “highly disconcerting” to him.

He argued that he grew restless with sharp divisions, adding it was high time “all parties pitch in” in shouldering national responsibilities.

“I will no longer accept that a group is left outside to rant,” he said.

“I learn from my mistakes and will not go through this again. I will only head a government where every Lebanese feels he is represented,” he continued. “In case I am nominated again, matters will be undertaken according to a precise road map.”

Mikati explained that after a new prime minister is named following President Michel Sleiman’s consultations with parliamentary blocs, various political factions should hold National Dialogue to discuss elections and the option of extending the term of the incumbent Parliament as well as the law that will govern the next polls.

The makeup of the new Cabinet, the security situation and a national defense strategy should also figure as mandatory items on the agenda of Dialogue sessions, according to Mikati.

He added that after Dialogue, Parliament should then issue the appropriate legislation for what was agreed upon during dialogue – mainly concerning elections – and in parallel, the prime minister-designate would be forming his new Cabinet.

“I do not want to set a precedent,” he said. “Any decision regarding the elections should go through the legal and legislative channels.”

In an unexpected development last week, Mikati announced the resignation of his government after March 8 ministers blocked his bid to extend the term of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, director-general of the Internal Security Forces, and form a commission to oversee the parliamentary elections. Mikati disclosed that Sleiman would kick off consultations with lawmakers to nominate a new prime minister “right after” the Easter break, adding that he hoped that the caretaker phase would not last long.

Mikati maintained that his resignation did not upset his March 8 partners in the Cabinet, namely Hezbollah. He also denied establishing any sort of contact with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah or the latter’s political aide Hussein Khalil in the aftermath of the resignation.

“I have not met with Sayyed Nasrallah for almost a year-and-a-half now.”

In a veiled criticism of the Free Patriotic Movement, Mikati said his resignation irked “only those who do not disapprove of a power vacuum if elections are not held according to the Orthodox Law.”

The controversial draft law submitted by a committee of Orthodox figures stipulates that each sect elects its own representatives exclusively based on a proportional representation system.

Mikati, who said he decided to submit his resignation Friday after he performed afternoon prayers and realized that matters had reached a dead end following an animated Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, denied that any internal or foreign players influenced his choice.

While detractors accuse him of submitting his resignation under pressure from Gulf countries and in light of developments in Syria, Mikati said his resignation was a “strictly personal decision strictly tied to the situation in Lebanon.”

“Nobody tells me what to do,” Mikati said, also revealing that some of his entourage had advised him against the move. “It was a surprise to everyone on the domestic, regional and international levels.”

The caretaker premier added that Lebanon should benefit from the global trend to spare the country the repercussions of the crisis in Syria. “I make extensive international contacts and I am a good reader of global trends, this is a golden opportunity we should not miss,” he said. “Lebanon will not be dragged into the abyss if we stick to the policy of disassociation and maintain dialogue.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 27, 2013, on page 1.

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