BEIRUT: Hopes for a breakthrough on the cabinet formation front were dealt another blow Friday after Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun informed President Michel Sleiman that he would miss an iftar at Baabda Palace next week for “logistical” reasons. The iftar, which will be hosted by Sleiman, was seen as an opportunity for a meeting on neutral ground between Premier-designate Saad Hariri and Aoun, who are deadlocked over the formation of a new cabinet.
Earlier this month, Aoun rejected a lunch invitation by Hariri to discuss his demands, while expressing his openness to meet with the premier-designate at his residence in Rabieh.
FPM official Gebran Bassil, the caretaker telecommunications minister, relayed Aoun’s decision to decline Tuesday’s iftar invitation to Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
Bassil informed Sleiman that Aoun would be staying away “for logistical rather than political reasons.”
Bassil stated that attempts to create a dispute between Aoun and Sleiman would fail, adding that the cabinet formation process was halted as well, since Aoun was still awaiting news from Hariri about a possible meeting.
Meanwhile, as the political stalemate continued, the debate over the issue of constitutional prerogatives is picking up steam, as politicians debate the role of the president and the premier-designate, as well as the basis of the representation of parliamentary blocs in the next cabinet.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea called on Sleiman and Hariri to exercise their constitutional powers to form a cabinet representing the largest possible group of parliamentary blocs.
Geagea, who was speaking at an event in Dbayyeh on Friday, added that his call did not intend to “exclude any bloc – nevertheless the country should not be left as prey to personal benefits or impulses.”
Aoun has insisted that Bassil return in the next cabinet, while March 14 figures have rejected this because the minister failed to win a seat in June’s parliamentary elections. With the impasse dragging on, some have called for the formation of a cabinet comprising a majority of MPs, and not a unity government that satisfies all sides.
Geagea said that “consensus-based democracy” was the essence of the political regime, but “running these [constitutional] institutions takes place based on” a simple majority.
He also warned against attempts to amend the Constitution “based on numbers,” adding that no party had an interest in tinkering with the Constitution, “since it would mean the collapse of the temple and if so on everybody’s head.”
Meanwhile, Sleiman stressed on Friday the need to preserve the Lebanese model based on diversity and coexistence among the country’s sectarian components, adding that the Constitution was “unique” in establishing such arrangements.
A statement from Baabda Palace quoted Sleiman as saying that the Constitution “grants sects a role in political life, granting Lebanon a unique quality that should be preserved.
For his part, the FPM’s Ibrahim Kenaan, an MP for Metn, said Thursday night that the process had already begun to amend the Taif Accord, in order to reform the political system.
Speaking during a dinner in Metn, Kenaan said “political mechanisms that would permit the solving of domestic disputes” would only be achieved through granting the president constitutional prerogatives of “domestic arbiter.”
Kenaan argued that the 1989 Taif agreement was sponsored by a Syrian-Saudi-American security agreement at the expense of Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. “They remembered 19 years later that the president was stripped of his constitutional powers and the regime’s equilibrium was lost while the role of arbiter moved to foreign powers,” Kenaan said.
Kenaan added that blaming the delay on the cabinet’s formation on the re-appointment of Bassil aimed to isolate the FPM and deny Christians an active partnership in decision making.
“If they want to implement the logic of the majority, we represent the Christian majority,” Kenaan said.
Meanwhile, Baalbek-Hermel MP Hussein Musawi, a Hizbullah official, said his party would not allow attempts “to weaken or break General Aoun.”
Musawi added that opposition groups would take part in the cabinet united. “Otherwise, let them form a majority cabinet as some have said.” Musawi stressed that March 14 was incapable of forming a simple majority-based cabinet that denied the opposition partnership in decision-making given Lebanon’s consensus-based system.
“When the premier-designate talks about Hizbullah’s participation in the government whether the Israeli enemy likes or not, it’s because he realizes the impossibility of unilaterally governing as a majority,” Musawi said.
Speaking during an iftar on Thursday, Musawi stressed that foreign parties in cooperation with Lebanese groups were hampering the formation of the cabinet.
Musawi said the US was pressuring domestic parties to obstruct the formation process, awaiting a comprehensive solution for a basket of issues in the Middle East, adding that “the Bassil issue” aimed to shift blame on Aoun.
Separately, after a meeting with Hariri, Tripoli MP Najib Mikati said on Friday that discussions on constitutional amendments were not appropriate, prior to the full implementation of Taif.
Mikati added that possible amendments to the Constitution should be introduced after establishing the proper atmosphere for such steps. Mikati urged political leaders to quickly form a cabinet in order to meet the people’s urgent social, economic and financial needs as well as worrisome security conditions and Israeli threats.
Similarly, figures from the business community underlined on Friday the necessity to facilitate Hariri’s task as to promptly form a national unity cabinet in order to launch a series of economic and social reforms.