BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri kicked off on Thursday the first round of an unusually lengthy five days of parliamentary deliberations, with all opposition parties he met stressing their desire to maintain the 15-10-5 formula for distributing cabinet posts. Hariri had stepped down on September 10 from his 73-day first stint as premier-designate after failed talks with opposition groups; the negotiations came to an end when the minority rejected his cabinet line-up proposal.
Meanwhile, political officials stressed on Thursday that the improvement in Syrian-Saudi ties, following President Bashar Assad’s visit to attend the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), would reflect positively on the formation process.
On Thursday, Hariri met at the Parliament in Downtown Beirut with opposition groups including the Development and Liberation bloc led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) headed by MP Michel Aoun and Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc.
Hariri also held talks with a delegation from the Democratic Gathering bloc headed by his ally in the majority Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt.
Following talks with Hariri, Development and Liberation bloc MP Anwar Khalil stressed that his bloc called on the premier-designate to form a national-unity cabinet based on the 15-10-5 formula.
Khalil added that his bloc urged Hariri for the full implementation of the Taif Accord in order to prepare for the abolition of political sectarianism and the establishment of balanced development projects throughout all of Lebanon.
Jumblatt and Berri, along with the speaker’s opposition allies in Hizbullah and the FPM, have expressed their commitment to the 15-10-5 formula.
The 15-10-5 structure grants the majority 15 ministers, the opposition 10 and President Michel Sleiman gets five seats in cabinet, guaranteeing him the deciding votes.
Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc leader MP Mohammad Raad also voiced support for the 15-10-5 formula, adding that his bloc called on Hariri to benefit from the previously established accord on the cabinet structure. “We wish to benefit from the previous experience to move forward and focus our deliberations on the distribution of portfolios and the nomination of candidates,” he said.
The Hizbullah MP added that his party’s views concurred with Hariri’s approach concerning the formation process.
“Our demands concerning portfolios and names were not exceptional, and we did not sense any hesitation from Hariri when we proposed the agreed-upon formula,” Raad added.
For his part, Aoun told reporters following talks with Hariri that he agreed with the Future Movement leader on a second round of deliberations given the need for further dialogue to resolve all conflicting issues.
“Today we began consultations that tackled all complicated issues as we exchanged opinions in an honest and calm atmosphere; we listened to each other, and we agreed to a second round of talks, given the need for further dialogue to cover the numerous topics of interest,” Aoun said.
The former general also said the deliberations were constructive, while he expressed hope for the continuation of dialogue in order to reach a quick agreement on the cabinet issue.
“What we accomplished today is very useful, and we hope to continue on the same basis, not in a speedy approach but rather quick enough to reach a solution as soon as possible,” Aoun said.
Hariri also met Parliament Deputy Speaker and Koura MP Farid Makari, who urged the prompt formation of the government without imposing conditions on the premier-designate.
Meanwhile, Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, stressed the importance of Assad’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, adding that the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement reflected positively on Lebanon’s political situation.
“No doubt that President Bashar Assad’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a political event of major importance, as it re-establishes bilateral ties; I underscore the importance of this meeting and its implications on the Taif Accord that was ratified under the sponsorship of both countries,” Jumblatt told reporters following talks with Hariri.
Similarly, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said Assad’s meeting with Abdel-Aziz might open the door for the cabinet’s formation because good inter-Arab ties would reflect positively on Lebanon.
In criticism of Aoun’s Wednesday statement that he awaited a proposal by Hariri regarding the next government, Houri said the premier-designate would conduct deliberations to listen to propositions by parliamentary blocs rather than the other way around. He added that Hariri still rejected giving ministerial posts to candidates who lost in the June 7 general elections, and that the premier-designate held on to his proposal to rotate ministerial portfolios among political parties.
Houri also praised the roles of Berri and Jumblatt regarding their efforts to reach a successful conclusion of the cabinet-formation process.
Both leaders have been mediating talks between opposition groups and Hariri to reach an agreement on the line-up.
Aoun had earlier tied his party’s participation in the cabinet to the reappointment of his son-in-law, caretaker Telecommunications Minister Jebran Bassil, for a second term; Bassil lost the elections in his hometown of Batroun to March 14 MPs Antoine Zahra and Butros Harb.
On Wednesday, Aoun stressed that Hariri’s call for rotating ministerial portfolios among political parties would necessitate that Hariri’s Future Movement give up the Finance Ministry.
“If there is justice in rotating portfolios, no one would reject the principle; thus the Future Movement should give up the Finance Ministry, which it handled for 17 years while we were only assigned the Telecommunications Ministry for 10 months,” Aoun said.
Aoun’s ally, Development and Liberation bloc MP Qassem Hashem, also said that the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement would have a constructive impact on Lebanon given both countries’ important standings on regional and domestic levels.
“We hope that the Lebanese reap the positive atmosphere in inter-Arab ties to preserve domestic stability by giving up on high-pitched political rhetoric as to reach an agreement on a national unity cabinet based on the agreed-upon 15-10-5 formula,” Hashem said.
Also, Khalil said later Thursday that the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement would benefit mutual Arab issues including Lebanon.
“President Assad’s acceptance of the invitation by King Abdullah reflects both leaders’ determination to resolve disagreements and improve bilateral ties,” Khalil said.
In other news, Sleiman discussed on Thursday bilateral ties with US President Barak Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
During a dinner organized by Obama to honor heads of state participating in the UN General Assembly in New York, Sleiman discussed US-Lebanese bilateral ties with his US counterpart.
A statement by the presidency’s press office said Sleiman urged the US during talks with Obama to pressure Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative proposed during the Arab League summit held in Beirut in 2002.
US Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison said on Thursday following a meeting with Phalange Party head Amin Gemayel that the US administration has interest in preserving Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence.
As part of his efforts to gather international support for Lebanon’s expected membership in the UN Security Council, Sleiman discussed with Sarkozy Lebanon’s candidacy for a non-permanent UN Security Council seat.
The National News Agency also reported that Sleiman is expected to meet the Austrian, Bosnian, Iranian and Palestinian presidents, the Turkish prime minister, the Qatari prince and Egyptian and UAE foreign ministers.
Sleiman, who is scheduled to address the General Assembly on Friday, also held talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.
Meanwhile, caretaker Premier Fouad Siniora arrived in Beirut on Thursday following his visit to Saudi Arabia to attend the KAUST opening.