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March 14 to push for neutral government

March 14 coalition meet in Ashrafieh, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/Stringer)

BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition will push for the formation of a neutral Cabinet to supervise the parliamentary elections, said former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who also warned Friday that failure to hold the polls would make Lebanon “a failed state.”

Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said he would visit the Saudi capital, Riyadh, at the head of a Future delegation for talks with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on attempts to form a new Cabinet following last week’s resignation of the government.

“The purpose of the Riyadh visit is to consult [with Hariri] on the political situation in Lebanon,” Siniora told The Daily Star. “Our demand has been the formation of a neutral Cabinet to oversee the elections.”

Siniora declined to say when the Future delegation would go to Saudi Arabia, but MTV said the visit would take place Saturday.

Asked if he is optimistic that the elections, scheduled on June 9, could still be held on time given the rival factions’ inability to agree on a new electoral law, Siniora said failure to conduct the polls would entail negative effects for the country.

“Lebanon will ultimately become a failed state if the elections are not held,” he said. “We want the elections to be held on time.”

In what appeared to be obstacles in the way of the Cabinet formation, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said he would oppose allotting the Energy and Telecoms ministries to Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

“I don’t want [Energy] Minister Gebran Bassil to stay in his post,” Jumblatt told AlAkhbar newspaper. “I don’t want the Aounists in the Energy and Telecommunications ministries.”

Former minister Mario Aoun from the FPM hit back at Jumblatt, saying those two were the most successful ministries. He described Jumblatt’s demand not to allot those portfolios to the FPM as “political prostitution.”

Siniora refused to say if he or Hariri could be nominated for prime minister.

“The March 14 coalition will announce their candidate to the premiership on the day of the parliamentary consultations,” he said.

President Michel Sleiman has set April 5-6 as the dates to poll parliamentary blocs and independent lawmakers on their choice for a new prime minister. Based on the outcome of the polling, the candidate who gets the largest number of the MPs’ votes will be named a prime minister-designate.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced the resignation of his government on March 22 after Hezbollah and its March 8 allies in the Cabinet blocked his proposal to extend the term of police chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi and also an attempt to form a body to supervise the elections.

Future MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star he expected efforts to form a new Cabinet to be difficult: “The Future bloc is still consulting with its March 14 allies on the shape of the new Cabinet. The tendency is to support the formation of a neutral Cabinet.”

He rejected Hezbollah’s demand that the new Cabinet should adopt “The people, the Army and the resistance” in its policy statement as has been the case with previous governments.

“The March 14 parties will never accept this equation to be mentioned in the new Cabinet’s policy statement because this era is finished once and for all,” Houri said.

Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq said his bloc would oppose naming Mikati to form a new Cabinet. Speaking to MTV, he said that neither Hariri, nor Siniora was a candidate to the premiership. “Our main goal is the formation of a government of technocrats for a transitional period to conduct the elections,” Mashnouq said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 30, 2013, on page 1.

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