BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s efforts to form a new government suffered a setback Tuesday after Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun denied any progress had been made in the Cabinet formation process.
“Prime Minister-[designate] Mikati was surprised by General Aoun’s position which did not reflect the progress made in the contacts on the Cabinet formation,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star.
“The results of [Mikati’s] contacts in the past few days have put the Cabinet formation on track for a solution after agreement had been reached by the parties concerned on a host of criteria concerning the Cabinet makeup,” the source said.
He added that after the main parties endorsed Mikati’s draft 30-member Cabinet lineup, discussion was focused on the distribution of portfolios and names of candidates who will join the Cabinet.
The source said “significant contacts,” including talks between Aoun and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, were to be held Tuesday to seal the deal on the Cabinet lineup.
The source acknowledged that Aoun’s “surprise stance” was bound to set back the Cabinet formation efforts.
“Despite the difficulties created by Aoun’s stance, Prime Minister [-designate] Mikati is determined to pursue his contacts with the parties concerned with a view to forming a productive Cabinet according to constitutional rules,” the source said.
Aoun has accused Mikati of being biased toward President Michel Sleiman, with whom the FPM leader has locked horns over the key Interior Ministry portfolio, the source said.
Speaking at a news conference after chairing a meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Aoun said he was unaware of any progress in Mikati’s Cabinet formation efforts.
“We hear news that there is a lot of work [on the Cabinet formation]. We hope that there is progress. So far, we have not been informed of the progress that has been made,” Aoun said.
He rejected the argument that his tough demands were to blame for the two-month-long Cabinet deadlock. “There are some who say that if General Aoun agreed, the Cabinet would be formed. This means that if they do not want the formation of the Cabinet, they blame it on General Aoun,” Aoun said.
Asked about his planned meeting with Nasrallah, Aoun said, “It’s media reports. For instance, today I heard talk about the formation of the Cabinet. But there is nothing new.”
Asked about his demands for participation in Cabinet, Aoun, who heads the second largest bloc in Parliament after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future bloc, said he has the right to the number of ministers commensurate with the number of his bloc.
Under Mikati’s latest Cabinet proposal, 11 portfolios will be allotted to Sleiman, Mikati and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt’s bloc, 10 portfolios to Aoun and the remaining nine portfolios will be shared by Hezbollah, the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and other March 8 figures.
Aoun’s tough demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation, including the Interior Ministry portfolio, have
been cited as the main reason for the Cabinet impasse. Mikati, who is backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, was appointed on Jan. 25 to form a new government to replace Hariri’s toppled Cabinet.
Caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, who represented Jumblatt in the Cabinet formation consultations, told Al-Manar television that the government would be formed soon. He said the parties concerned had agreed on the number of ministers and the distribution of portfolios, adding that he expected the row over the Interior Ministry to be resolved soon.
Meanwhile, Hariri’s Future bloc criticized the delay in Cabinet formation and warned of the negative impact on the country’s economy as a result of the absence of a Cabinet. “The bloc expressed surprise over this delay and the political interference at more than one level in this issue [Cabinet formation], especially since the March 8 alliance was unilaterally forming the Cabinet,” said a statement after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
“In this respect, the bloc voiced its concern over the growing negative repercussions as a result of this slowness and confusion [in Cabinet formation]. It is no longer understandable who is forming the Cabinet and who is setting dates for the issuance of its decrees,” it said.
The statement added that the Cabinet impasse came amid a state of “disarray in government departments and the emergence of additional negative economic and financial indications.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the Cabinet to be formed by Mikati would support the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
“Whether the new Cabinet is formed or not, it makes no difference because it will not change the situation in Lebanon,” Geagea said in a statement after meeting a delegation from the Syriac Union Party.
“Also, the Cabinet will not be formed to bolster the Lebanese state, but to support the March 8 parties who like to call themselves ‘resistance’ at a time when we do not recognize them as resistance since there is no parliamentary law that assigned them to this mission,” Geagea said.
MP Ammar Houri of Hariri’s Future bloc told LBCI television that the key to the Cabinet’s formation was with Hezbollah. “The moment the party decides to launch the formation, the government will be formed,” he said, adding that Mikati was going through “a difficult test.”