BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman praised on Sunday achievements which promote national-unity and reinforced the state’s constitutional institutions, rather than individual political parties or leaders. Sleiman is expected to receive next week a proposal by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over the make-up of the national unity cabinet. “I will take decisive steps in the next couple of days,” Hariri said during an iftar banquet in Qoreitem on Sunday.
However, the premier-designate said he would not take “illogical steps,” in reference to calls by some March 14 figures to form a majority cabinet.
Hariri stressed his alliance with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, “despite certain disagreements in political views.”
Jumblatt had met Sunday with Sleiman at the Druze leader’s summer residence in Beiteddine. Following the meeting, Sleiman emphasized the need to rely on the state’s institutions in order to prevent political conflicts from backfiring at the people’s interests.
The president praised Jumblatt’s efforts to promote Druze-Christian reconciliation in the Chouf region, and urged further cooperation among Lebanese groups to encourage the return of expatriates to their home country.
“Mount Lebanon is an essential ground of coexistence,” Sleiman said.
Sleiman also stressed the need to protect the environment and preserve Lebanon’s natural diversity.
For his part, Jumblatt, who welcomed the president to the Chouf region, said he hoped for the prompt formation of the next cabinet in cooperation with Sleiman so as to kick off a series of developmental projects and strengthen national consensus.
Meanwhile, discussions on the cabinet’s formation did not achieve any breakthrough over the weekend, though Hariri is expected to submit a much-awaited government proposal to Sleiman prior to the latter’s visit to New York to deliver Lebanon’s address at the United Nations General Assembly.
Media reports said on Friday that Hariri would include in his proposal to the president his view on the distribution of ministerial portfolios among political parties.
The reports said Hariri’s proposal would assign portfolios to 25 candidates, and would leave to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun the freedom to nominate his ministers for the five remaining seats allotted to the FPM, counting four portfolios and a state ministry.
Over the weekend, FPM officials stressed that their demands should be met if a national-unity cabinet is to be formed.
The FPM’s demands were also backed by their opposition allies, Hizbullah and Amal, which both emphasized on Sunday that they would not join a cabinet if their FPM allies were excluded from it.
Amal Movement MP Ayoub Hmayed said the delay in the cabinet formation “cannot be tolerated any further,” adding that the government should either be formed or new deliberations should be held to designate a new premier.
On Sunday, Caretaker Telecommunication Minister Jebran Bassil held talks with Hariri at the latter’s residence in the downtown Beirut neighborhood of Kontari to discuss his party’s demands. No statements followed the meeting. Hariri, who met Hassan Khalil, the political adviser of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah Saturday night, also held talks with another delegation of the party on Sunday.
During an iftar in Qoreitem on Saturday, Hariri said he was focusing his efforts to conclude an agreement on a national-unity cabinet prior to Sleiman’s trip to New York on September 23.
Last week, Sleiman had expressed his wish that the next government be formed prior to his trip to the United States as to strengthen the country’s role in the international community ahead of assigning Lebanon a seat in the Security Council.
Hariri added that he was surprised by the opposition’s impossible demands, a reference to Aoun’s insistence to be granted a “sovereign” portfolio as well as to reappoint his son-in-law Bassil for a second term at the Telecommunication Ministry.
Hariri stressed that the parliamentary majority’s openness should be met with more flexibility from the opposition, since March 14 had reached out to them to form a unity cabinet despite winning June elections.
“We relinquished our right to a two-thirds vote or absolute majority in the next government in a bid to reach an agreement on a national-unity cabinet, but not out of fear but rather to achieve true partnership,” Hariri said.
The 15-10-5 cabinet formula agreed upon grants the majority 15 ministers, the opposition 10 and Sleiman 5 seats which guarantees him the tipping vote; Both the majority and the opposition are denied respectively absolute majority or veto power.
Future Movement Samir Jisr said Sunday that the president, however, “retains the right to accept or reject” Hariri’s proposal.
However, Bassil said on Saturday that Hariri cannot impose his will on the FPM.
Bassil’s ally, Loyalty to Resistance bloc leader MP Mohammad Raad stressed on Sunday that opposition groups were unified in their stance, adding that they would only participate united in a national-unity cabinet.
Raad said the obstacles delaying the formation of a government were foreign rather than domestic as a number of officials awaited “foreign orders” to conclude the process.
Similarly, Hizbullah’s Labor Minister Mohammad Fneish said that “any imposed cabinet line-up was a recipe for renewed conflict among Lebanon’s political parties and factions,” adding that such an attempt would lead to failure in forming a cabinet which complied with the country’s founding charter and Constitution. “The solution lies in more discussions in order to form a partnership cabinet approved by all groups given the current necessity for dialogue in order to preserve the country’s stability,” he said.