BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati vowed Monday to pursue his efforts to form a new government despite major hurdles blocking the Cabinet’s birth. “I will continue my efforts to form a government that will address the big problems and seek to allay the Lebanese’s concerns,” Mikati said in a speech welcoming the country’s top Christian and Muslim religious leaders, including the newly elected Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, at his residence in the Beirut neighborhood of Verdun. Mikati hosted a luncheon for his guests.
Rai visited Mikati as part of his calls on the top Muslim political and religious leaders to thank them for participating in his inauguration mass last month which confirmed him as the new head of the influential Maronite Catholic Church, replacing Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir who has resigned.
Mikati stressed that the Lebanese religious authorities have a role to play in “bringing the Lebanese together, cooperating to save Lebanon from the crises it is facing and also in safeguarding internal stability.”
“The key to resolve the political crises is by adhering to the implementation of texts and spirit of the Constitution which preserve the positions and role of all the Lebanese groups … No one can eliminate the other or underestimate its effective presence in the country and institutions,” he said.
Mikati reiterated commitment to the ruling system based on the 1989 Arab-brokered Taif Accord which ended the 1975-90 Civil War. He warned that any attempt to undermine this ruling formula would bring the country back to “a very difficult stage.”
The Christian and Muslim spiritual leaders praised Mikati’s efforts to form the Cabinet and called on all political factions “to facilitate his mission and reduce their conditions and demands in order to help the formation of a government to tackle many thorny issues.”
Rai said he hoped a new government would be formed for which all the Lebanese were anxiously waiting. “Certainly, our people will be happy when they have a government that takes cares of their needs and bears with them the burden of the economic and living problems,” Rai said.
In another statement after meeting Speaker Nabih Berri, Rai said: “Our wishes and prayers are for the government to see the light of day as soon as possible so that Lebanon’s big and accumulated problems could be solved.”
Speaking to reporters after meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, Rai said: “We expect the government to be formed soon, especially since the people can no longer tolerate [this].”
Rai’s remarks came as Mikati was running into trouble to form a new government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet amid a veiled threat by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun to support another candidate to the premiership if Mikati failed to meet his tough demands for participation.
Aoun’s demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation in the government, including the key Interior Ministry portfolio, have been largely blamed for blocking the Cabinet’s formation. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has promised Mikati during their meeting last week to intercede with Aoun in a bid to make him soften his tough demands.
Mikati was backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance for prime minister following the collapse of Hariri’s Cabinet on Jan. 12 after the resignations of the ministers of Hezbollah and its allies in a long-simmering dispute over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Meanwhile, Kataeb (Phalange) Party leader Amin Gemayel called for the formation of a government to serve as “a national salvation committee,” warning that Lebanon stood on “the brink of the abyss” as a result of the Cabinet vacuum.
Speaking at a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Saifi, Gemayel urged Mikati to frankly tell the Lebanese about the reasons behind the delay in the government’s formation. He said that the current Cabinet vacuum was intentional and part of the March 8 alliance’s “mounting coup.”
“Such a committee will be the government that cares for the country’s affairs because it is illogical for the country to remain left in vacuum and obstruction amid what is happening around us in the Arab countries,” Gemayel said.
“The internal Lebanese situation is dangerous amid the external repercussions on it.”
Gemayel said President Michel Sleiman should act to help form the national salvation committee to serve as a government. “This is part of his duties in the framework of searching for solutions,” he said.
Gemayel asked what was holding up the formation of the government since the formation was now in the hands of the March 8 groups. Praising Mikati as an honest man with good intentions, he said: “It’s time for the prime minister-designate to talk frankly to the Lebanese about the delay in the government’s formation.”