BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s attempts to form a new government are now in the final stage with discussions focused on fine tuning the distribution of portfolios and finding a consensus candidate acceptable to all the parties, a senior March 8 source said Sunday.
“After agreement has been reached by the main parties on the division of shares, consultations are now centering on finalizing a draft of who gets what portfolio. This matter carries wrinkles that need to be ironed out,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source cited the Interior Ministry portfolio, which is being vied by President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun, as a remaining major hurdle to the formation of the Cabinet.
“There is some progress in the issue of the Interior Ministry calling for replacing [Caretaker Interior Minister] Ziyad Baroud with a consensus candidate who is close to President Sleiman but he should also be acceptable to all the parties,” the source said.
However, a source close to the Cabinet formation talks told The Daily Star Sunday night that Sleiman and some local parties prefer that the two major security portfolios – the Defense and Interior Ministries – be held by candidates loyal to the president as is the case in caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled government.
Although the Constitution does not clearly call for granting the president any ministerial post, the source said, “the president is sticking to his constitutional powers with regard to the formation of the Cabinet.”
He added that Sleiman can, under the Constitution, turn down any draft Cabinet lineup presented to him by Mikati if it runs contrary to the ruling political system which calls for all sects to be represented in the government.
The March 8 source said there was no problem in allotting the Defense Ministry to a Sleiman loyalist but in exchange for a prominent portfolio to be allotted to the March 8 coalition.
Under Mikati’s latest draft 30-member Cabinet lineup that has been endorsed by the March 8 alliance, 11 portfolios are allotted to Sleiman, Mikati and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, 10 portfolios to Aoun, and the remaining nine portfolios to be shared by Hezbollah, the Amal Movement led by Speaker Nabih Berri and other March 8 figures.
Mikati held a new round of consultations Friday night with delegates from Hezbollah and Amal. “The meetings pondered new ideas in an attempt to break the Cabinet impasse. However, no agreement was reached and nothing is final,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star Sunday.
Asked if Mikati was waiting for intervention by regional powers – a reference to Syria – to break the three month-long Cabinet deadlock, the source said, “Prime Minister [-designate] Mikati is not betting on any external factors. He is betting on the wisdom of internal parties to respond positively to his efforts to accelerate the formation of a balanced Cabinet.”
A source close to the Cabinet talks said that among proposals to break the stalemate was the rotation of key ministries among the country’s major sects.
But the March 8 source said such a proposal would be adopted only if matters reached a dead end. The source confirmed that a meeting was held a few days ago between Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and caretaker Energy Minister Jibran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, in an attempt to find a solution for the crisis.
Mikati said last week he has agreed with Sleiman on giving the Cabinet formation efforts a new chance aimed reaching a deal on “a homogeneous and balanced” government to help Lebanon confront challenges as a result of the current uprisings in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s caretaker Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish sounded upbeat about the formation of “a productive Cabinet.”
“The new [Parliament] majority [Hezbollah and its March 8 allies] and the prime minister-designate have gone beyond the phase of ensuring the climate for a broad participation by other parties. Therefore, the Cabinet will be formed and it will be serious, productive, conforms with the parliamentary majority and carries visions for solving the country’s problems,” Fneish told a rally in south Lebanon. He said Hariri, whose Cabinet was brought down by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition on Jan. 12, should get used to being out of power.
Hariri flew to Riyadh Sunday on a private visit to Saudi Arabia, his office said.