BEIRUT: The March 8 and March 14 coalitions held talks within their respective camps Wednesday in a bid to consolidate their stances ahead of nominating a new prime minister, a process expected to kick off next week.
President Michel Sleiman’s return to Lebanon Wednesday from Doha, where he attended the Arab League summit, is expected to give momentum to the discussions, as he is set to assign a date for parliamentary consultations. Political sources told The Daily Star that caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati would visit Sleiman Thursday.
The sources said Sleiman favors nominating a prime minister first, followed by a resumption of National Dialogue, and the formation of the Cabinet.
The sources added the president believes nominating a prime minister would be a task far easier than forming a government, hence the need for National Dialogue. The sources added that Mikati stands a good chance of being nominated again.
March 14 MPs and officials met at former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s downtown residence, where they tackled the upcoming phase of forming a new government.
“The meeting comes as a confirmation of unity of the March 14 alliance at this critical stage that Lebanon is going through, and of the importance of coordinating positions regarding all issues, particularly the issue of nominating a prime minister, the makeup of a new Cabinet and the electoral law, as well as the necessity of holding the elections according to constitutional deadlines,” said a statement issued after the meeting.
Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, and Wafiq Safa, a senior security official from the party, met with Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun at his Rabieh residence. Caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil was also present at the meeting, which tackled the election law and a new Cabinet.
Khalil declined to comment when asked about Hezbollah’s choice for prime minister. “I won’t go into names. We do have certain red lines, but there are also open possibilities,” Khalil said.
The Hezbollah official said his party supported putting the Orthodox Gathering electoral proposal at the top of Parliament’s agenda, and annulling the so-called 1960 law, which is currently in force.
“We understood from Speaker [Nabih] Berri during our discussions with him that the Orthodox proposal will top the agenda of any [future] Parliament session,” Khalil said.
Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah said his party did not intervene in Mikati’s decision last week to resign.
“We did not intervene in his decision; we neither encouraged him, nor opposed [his resignation],” Fadlallah said during a seminar at the American University of Beirut.
Fadlallah said his party wasn’t surprised by Mikati’s resignation, and added that March 8 didn’t favor a government of technocrats.
“We don’t support forming a neutral Cabinet because neutrality does not exist. A neutral or a technocrat Cabinet can be formed in any system other than the Lebanese political system,” he said.
Political sources said that at this stage, the priorities of various political groups differ, even within coalitions. Aoun’s bloc favors convening the legislature to vote on the Orthodox proposal, which would be followed by forming a Cabinet. Key Muslim parties, meanwhile, favor extending Parliament’s term and forming a Cabinet before putting an electoral law to vote.
Aoun informed the Hezbollah delegation that he opposed such a move, the sources said.
Meanwhile, sources close to Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Jumblatt said he supported forming a national unity government under Mikati.
Other parliamentary sources said Jumblatt opposes extending Parliament’s term and favors increasing the retirement age of senior security officials, an issue that was seized on by Mikati in announcing his resignation.
After meeting in Parliament, MPs from Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, FPM, Marada Movement and Tashnag Party called for holding a Parliament session to put the Orthodox proposal to a vote, and to annul the 1960 law.
According to the Central News Agency, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel plans to send a letter to Berri and Mikati on April 3 to say that the ministry will be unable to hold polls on time based on the 1960 law, due to the absence of an elections supervisory committee, as well as the required funds, of approximately $20 million.
MPs who met with the speaker at his Ain al-Tineh residence quoted Berri as saying that he has yet to decide whether to convene a Parliament session, as he continues to study the various demands made by political blocs.
Berri stressed the importance of National Dialogue and boosting contacts among all groups in order to deal with the aftermath of Mikati’s resignation, the MPs said.
Later, a delegation of March 14 MPs handed Berri a petition demanding he convene the legislature before the end of the month in order to pass a draft law to raise the retirement age of soon-to-retire security officials. “In principle, [Berri] supports increasing the retirement age; however, he decides when to call for the session,” Tripoli MP Samir Jisr said after meeting.
The petition bears the signature of 69 MPs, including Mikati, caretaker Ministers Mohammad Safadi and Ahmad Karami and MPs from Jumblatt’s bloc.
“We support passing a new electoral law ... but also we should not leave the country without security institutions and their chiefs,” Jisr said.