Lebanon News

Aoun: Talks on Cabinet progressing slowly

By Hussein Dakroub and Hassan Lakkis The Daily Star BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati is making slow progress in his attempts to form a new government, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun said Tuesday, boosting hopes for breaking the three-month-long Cabinet stalemate. “The Cabinet [formation] is progressing slowly, but it has not so far been completed,” Aoun told a news conference after chairing a meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.

Meanwhile, a source close to Mikati also said the prime minister-designate has made progress in his latest contacts with the main parties involved in the Cabinet formation process.

“[Mikati’s] consultations with the parties are now seeking to find a solution for the row over the Interior Ministry portfolio,” the source told The Daily Star. The source ruled out the formation of the Cabinet this week, saying that Mikati was leaving Beirut this week for London for the Easter vacation.

Aoun’s remarks contrasted sharply with his statement last week in which he denied any progress had been made on the Cabinet formation, dealing a setback to Mikati’s efforts because they contradicted with the progress reported then in the contacts on the government makeup.

Aoun, whose tough demands for participation had initially been blamed for blocking the Cabinet’s formation, denied that his insistence on allotting the Interior Ministry portfolio to a member of his bloc was at the root of the problem.

“The prime minister-designate is the only one who can tell where the problem is and with whom. I don’t feel that I am causing the Interior Ministry problem,” he said.

After Aoun’s bloc and other parties in the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance have endorsed Mikati’s latest draft 30-member Cabinet lineup, the premier-designate’s contacts are now focused on the distribution of portfolios.

Aoun, who has demanded 12 portfolios, has now accepted 10 portfolios, including two state ministers, in the 30-member Cabinet lineup, a source close to Mikati said.

With both Aoun and President Michel Sleiman vying for the Interior Ministry portfolio, efforts are now under way to find a consensus candidate for this post acceptable to Sleiman, Mikati and Aoun, the source said.

Mitaki’s 30-member Cabinet proposal calls for 11 portfolios to be 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.

Sources close to Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc said that negotiations on the Cabinet’s formation were ongoing, but they did not know their results. The sources played down the optimism voiced by other political sources closely linked to the talks.

The source close to Mikati categorically denied rumors that his indecision on the Cabinet’s formation was due to “external pressure or matters related to his financial interests.”

At the news conference, Aoun hit back at Mikati for defending the president’s prerogatives. On Monday, Mikati called 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 turn to page 10from page 1been sidestepped by the parties’ political actions.

Mikati’s remarks were also viewed as a response to Aoun, who has argued that since the Constitution does not grant the president the right to have any ministerial portfolio, he must not be guaranteed any representatives in the Cabinet.

“No one has confiscated the president’s prerogatives so that he can give them back to him. His prerogatives are spelled out in the Constitution. The prime minister’s prerogatives are also spelled out in the Constitution and no one has confiscated them either,” Aoun said.

Aoun said that the prime minister has the right to form a Cabinet. “We have the right to grant it confidence or withhold it,” he added.

Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc warned of the negative consequences on the country’s economy as a result of the delay in the Cabinet’s formation.

“The bloc pondered at the continued failure to form the new government and the mounting negative repercussions of this delay on the economic conditions in the country and on the citizens’ interests. This was clearly manifested in the various indicators at more than one level,” said a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The statement said there was no justification for this delay in the Cabinet’s formation which, it said, arose from “confusion and disarray” within the March 8 alliance due to “competition and struggle for shares and spoils of power.”

The bloc held the March 8 alliance, led by Hezbollah, responsible for the negative repercussions at various national, security, economic and living levels.

Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem called on the new parliamentary majority (Hezbollah and March 8 allies) to accomplish the formation of the Cabinet.

Apparently referring to the March 14 groups, Qassem said: “Those seeking to foil the Cabinet even before it is formed believe that they can cause the collapse of a project contrary [to their project] at the political, social and economic levels. In our belief, solutions are available to form a national Cabinet. There is no going backward in the formation. We have to work to ensure the success of this option which is being anxiously awaited by the people. We are concerned in proving the failure of the others’ bets.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 20, 2011, on page 1.

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