BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said Friday the new deadline for the Cabinet formation efforts was aimed at giving a new chance for reaching an agreement on “a homogeneous and balanced” government that did not carry the seeds of division.
A few hours after Mikati’s statement, contacts between the prime minister-designate, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Michel Aoun and Hezbollah resumed with aides of the three leaders holding a flurry of meetings aimed at breaking the impasse over the Cabinet makeup, political sources said.
Mikati ealier appealed to leaders of the main parties involved in the consultations on the Cabinet issue to reconsider their positions and facilitate the formation of a new government to help Lebanon confront challenges as a result of the current popular Arab uprisings.
Speaking to supporters at his residence in Tripoli, Mikati said he had agreed with President Michel Sleiman during their Thursday’s meeting to give the Cabinet formation bid extra time to allow for a new round of contacts with the parties that have expressed readiness to join the government.
“The new deadline is aimed at reaching a homogeneous and balanced government that does not carry the seeds of division that would subsequently lead to crippling its ability to produce, work and launch the required reforms at the political, developmental and social levels in the next stage,” he said.
Mikati said he had discussed with Sleiman the “criteria” that should be ensured in the new government in order for it to be able to work and fulfill the aspirations of the Lebanese. He stressed that the extra time did not mean at all that the Cabinet issue has been postponed until further notice.
“It is an additional opportunity for the political leaders concerned to re-evaluate their positions and draw lessons from the events that are taking place in the region,” Mikati said, referring to the wave of anti-regime protests currently sweeping the Arab world.
Mikati said the popular uprisings required that Lebanon be fully ready to confront their repercussions, adding that this can only be done with the presence of “an efficient government that can fortify the country in cooperation with the legislative authority and other civilian or military institutions.”
Mikati’s remarks came three days after his efforts to form a government were dealt a setback by Aoun, who denied any progress had been made on the Cabinet’s formation. Mikati said he was surprised by Aoun’s position, which did not reflect the progress made in the contacts on the Cabinet formation.
Aoun’s tough demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation, including the key Interior Ministry portfolio, have been cited as a main reason for blocking the Cabinet’s formation.
Aoun called on Mikati Friday to take his time, saying that the conditions for the government’s formation were “not ripe yet.”
“Let the prime minister-designate take his time. We will not set a time-limit for him,” the FPM leader told journalists at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
He ruled out the Cabinet’s formation before the Easter holiday on April 24, saying he will talk about the Cabinet issue after the holiday. Asked what his demands are, Aoun said, “I don’t have demands, I have rights.”
A political source close to the Cabinet talks said Aoun’s insistence that his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc be allotted 10 portfolios, including the Interior Ministry, was holding up the government’s formation. Unless these demands are addressed, the Cabinet impasse will persist, the source said.
“Mikati will hold a new round of consultations next week to break the Cabinet deadlock,” the source said.
Another source said Mikati’s efforts were now back to square one as a result of Aoun’s insistence on 10 portfolios, including the Interior Ministry.
Sleiman was reported Friday to be adamant on retaining caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud and also that the Defense Ministry portfolio be allotted to someone who is loyal to him, because the head of state serves as the supreme commander of the armed forces.
Despite major hurdles facing his mission, Mikati, who was appointed on Jan. 25 to form a new government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet, has said he will not despair or step down.
Mikati, who has held several rounds of unannounced consultations with the main parties making up the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance said he was trying to reconcile the “various demands and opinions” of parliamentary blocs.
“The debate over the share of this or that party and the size of representation of this or that bloc may take a long time if it is aimed at upholding a viewpoint or having one’s own interpretation of the Constitution.
This comes at a time when the current circumstances in the country and the challenges facing the Lebanese demand that the Cabinet formation issue be approached in a different way transcending the narrow concept of shares and portfolios,” Mikati said.
“Therefore, the leaders, whom we have no doubt truly wish to facilitate the Cabinet’s formation, must act to translate this wish into action and respond to the results of the contacts held at more than one level,” he added.
Meanwhile, a group of Lebanese political and religious figures, including caretaker ministers and lawmakers, who met Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Rome, called for a quick formation of the Cabinet in order “to pull the country out of the worsening economic and social crisis and help the Lebanese state to consolidate its position to confront the dangers arising from what is happening in most Arab countries,” the state-run National News Agency reported.