BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called Monday for boosting the president’s role in the country’s decision-making process, saying such a role, which has been granted by the Constitution, has been sidestepped by the parties’ political actions.
“The Constitution has granted the president a major role, but this role has been sidestepped several times through political performance,” Mikati said, addressing a seminar on the composition of executive authority held at the Bristol Hotel in Beirut.
“I disagree with those who say that the president’s role is confined only to the Cabinet-formation process. I believe that the president’s role and the presidency’s post must be strengthened. The president has a wise opinion in all matters,” he said.
Mikati’s remarks came as his efforts to form a new government were making slow progress, with discussions now focused on the distribution of portfolios.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who has demanded 12 portfolios, has now accepted 10 portfolios in Mikati’s latest draft 30-member Cabinet lineup, a senior March 8 source has said.
Both Aoun and President Michel Sleiman, who were vying for the Interior Ministry portfolio, have now agreed to a consensus candidate for this post, while caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud will be allotted another portfolio in the new Cabinet, a political source told The Daily Star.
Mikati’s remarks were also viewed as a response to Aoun, who is locking horns with Sleiman over the president’s share in the new Cabinet. Aoun has argued that since the Constitution does not grant the president the right to have any ministerial portfolio, he must not have any representative in the Cabinet.
But Mikati disagreed fully with Aoun and has set a share for Sleiman in the new Cabinet. Under Mikati’s draft 30-member Cabinet lineup that has been endorsed by the Hezbollah-led 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 said three principles had prompted him to form a new government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet: Preventing strife, maintaining stability and basing any step he takes on the Constitution. “These points define the course of my steps,” he said.
“What matters for us is that strife is forbidden in any form among the sons of the same rank and among various sects and communities. Stability is a basic constant for any work,” he added.
Mikati said he was keen on adhering to the Constitution when it comes to preserving the prime minister’s post which is allotted to the Sunnis under the country’s ruling political system.
“I want to preserve this post and its prerogatives reserved for the Sunni sect in the current political setup … Also, I am one of those most convinced of the need for preserving the presidency’s post and granting it a full role in line with the Taif Accord from which the Lebanese Constitution has emanated,” he said.
Mikati added that he has so far refused to form a government of technocrats in order to avoid creating a new problem in the country.
“Some say, why don’t I declare a Cabinet that includes experts so that I can put all [parties] before their responsibilities. My answer is that we are trying to solve, rather than increase, Lebanon’s problems. We do not want the government to be an additional problem in the country,” he said.
Mikati said he refused to engage in political rhetoric with any party so as to avoid putting new obstacles in the Cabinet-formation process.
Despite difficulties facing his mission, Mikati said last week he has agreed with Sleiman on giving the Cabinet-formation efforts a new chance aimed reaching an agreement on “a homogeneous and balanced” government to help Lebanon confront challenges as a result of the current popular uprisings in the Arab world.
Mikati met Monday with MP Hassan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, in the latest consultations on the Cabinet’s formation.
“The atmosphere was positive. There was some progress in the ideas being discussed to find a solution for the Cabinet’s formation,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi called for a prompt formation of the Cabinet, saying there was no justification for any further delay.
Speaking to reporters after meeting some lawmakers at his office, Aridi said: “I call for raising the voice with one word: The people want the Cabinet’s birth to care for the citizens’ interests. A delay in its formation is no longer acceptable no matter what the pretexts and justifications are … I am not convinced of any reason for the delay in the Cabinet’s formation.”
“We cannot rest assured unless we see the Cabinet is formed and everybody goes to work so that it can be a government for all the Lebanese.
“Therefore, I hope to see the Cabinet’s birth at the earliest possible time,” he added.
The Kataeb (Phalange) Party slammed the delay in the Cabinet’s formation, warning that the power vacuum has thrown the country into a state of paralysis and led to a drop in productivity and sales in various public and private sectors.
A statement issued after a meeting of the party’s politburo called on those involved in the Cabinet’s formation “to reevaluate their stumbled efforts and put the formation process on a new, different track.”