Lebanon News

Mikati refuses to shrink from Cabinet challenge

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati vowed Thursday that he will not step down despite major hurdles facing his attempts to form a new government, and has agreed with President Michel Sleiman to give the Cabinet formation process a new chance.

He also said he would try to form an all-embracing government, representing various segments of the Lebanese people, after his bid to form a one-sided Cabinet dominated by Hezbollah and its allies has stalled.

However, Mikati did not say whether his new efforts call for the March 14 groups, who have already decided to stay out, to be represented in such a government.

Mikati, who was appointed on Jan. 25 to form a new government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet, said the next government should be formed according to constitutional rather than political rules, and would gather most segments of the Lebanese people and society.

Apparently referring to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s tough demands for participation, including the key Interior Ministry portfolio, Mikati said that the heads of parliamentary blocs have the right to demand specific portfolios and shares of seats.

“But it is also the right of the president and my right to use our constitutional right [to ensure] that the Cabinet is all-embracing, representing all the various segments of the Lebanese people,” Mikati told reporters after meeting Sleiman at Baabda Palace.“We, the president and I, both have the right to be the custodians of this issue [Cabinet formation].”

He signaled that the new government would include technocrats. “We look at the Cabinet makeup to be balanced to the utmost … But my approach to this issue is that the Cabinet should be an elite one, irrespective of political affiliations,” he said.

Mikati said he has agreed with Sleiman to give the government formation efforts more time to agree on a cabinet that can ward off the threat of civil strife.

“After consultations with the president, we have decided on an additional period so that the Cabinet, as every Lebanese wishes and as we have always affirmed, can be the key to stability in Lebanon, a Cabinet that wards off strife and works according to the Constitution,” Mikati said.

He called on the Lebanese to be patient. “I am fully aware of the magnitude of socio-economic issues. I hope we will announce the cabinet soon,” he said.

Mikati’s remarks came two days after his efforts to form a government suffered a setback after Aoun denied progress had been made. Mikati said he was surprised by Aoun’s stance, which did not reflect the progress made in the contacts on the Cabinet formation.

Aoun’s tough demands, which include the key Interior Ministry portfolio, have been cited as a main reason for blocking the Cabinet’s formation, but Mikati pledged to carry out his mission in hope of a solution.

Asked about a possible veto on granting Aoun a security portfolio, Mikati said: “I do not have a veto against anyone … I do not engage in a row with anyone because my aim is to form a Cabinet that is acceptable to all the Lebanese. I wanted to speak to the Lebanese today, three months after my designation, to say that I will not despair and I will carry on with my mission, God willing.”

Mikati said he was not underestimating the time element, with the deadlock approaching its third month.

“We prefer to have the best cabinet, including those who named me [for prime minister] and be comprehensive … The aim of the Cabinet is to resolve problems rather than be an additional problem in the country. This is the reason for the delay,” he said.

Mikati had rejected hints that external factors, in a possible reference to Syria, were delaying the Cabinet’s formation. “In fact, the Cabinet is formed in Lebanon. We form it in Lebanon,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah’s deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qassem said the Cabinet formation bid was heading in the right direction.

“Attempting to form the Cabinet as soon as possible is a just demand. Matters are heading in the right direction with regard to overcoming the obstacles, reconciling the [parties’] viewpoints and agreeing on an appropriate solution,” Qassem said after meeting Fayez Shukr, secretary general of the Baath Party. “There is no going backward. There is determination to see the birth of the new Cabinet.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 15, 2011, on page 2.

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