BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati should either form a new Cabinet or step down, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said Friday.
Aoun’s remarks came as Mikati said his consultations with the main parties to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance have made “important progress” toward forming the government.
Aoun, whose tough demands for participation have largely been blamed for the two-month-long Cabinet deadlock, was asked by a delegation of university students who visited him at his residence in Rabieh about the reasons holding up the government’s formation.
“If I wanted to tell you about the hurdle to the formation, there is something that I know and there is the conclusion. What I am talking about today is something I did not invent but I have been through. In fact, there are taboos and in principle, taboos are unacceptable,” Aoun said, apparently referring to his demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation in the next government, including the key Interior Ministry portfolio.
“They say today that the prime minister designated to form the government is threatened over his wealth. He has one choice: Take the risk [to form the Cabinet] or step down,” Aoun said. Apparently referring to the dispute over the distribution of shares in the government, Aoun, addressing Mikati, said: “You have said that you want your share according to norms. Take the share you want but don’t take away the others’ share. There are things that cannot be accepted. These are the declared reasons.”
Aoun, who has the largest bloc in Parliament after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future bloc, said the Cabinet’s formation could be waiting for “certain events.” He did not elaborate, but said that such expectations did not materialize in the past.
In addition to his tough demands, Aoun said that representation of the “Sunni opposition,” or Sunni groups and politicians who oppose Hariri, was one of the problems facing Mikati’s efforts to form the government.
Earlier Friday, Mikati said his talks on the Cabinet’s formation have made “important progress” and were held in a positive atmosphere.
“All the parties realize the need to speed up the Cabinet’s formation according to constitutional rules on the basis of representing political parties and qualified people so that it can be a homogeneous government capable of doing its job at the social, living, service, economic and developmental levels,” Mikati told supporters who visited him at his residence in Tripoli.
“The consultations are proceeding in steady steps toward accomplishing the Cabinet lineup awaited by the Lebanese,” he added.
Mikati, who was appointed on Jan. 25 to form a new government to replace Hariri’s toppled Cabinet, said his approach to the Cabinet makeup did not emanate from the number of ministers and shares, “but from the need to come up with a Cabinet comprising the best qualified people and experts from all political trends.”
Mikati called on rival factions in the March 8 and March 14 camps to cool down their political rhetoric and avoid anything that leads to tension.
Mikati has presented to the main parties – the FPM, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement – a 30-member Cabinet lineup, which allotted Aoun 10 instead of 12 portfolios that he has demanded.
However, a final agreement on a Cabinet lineup is waiting for a crucial meeting between Aoun and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.
Nasrallah promised Mikati during their meeting last week to intercede with Aoun in a bid to make him soften his tough demands. Aoun is also locking horns with President Michel Sleiman over the Interior Ministry portfolio.