BEIRUT: The Syrian leadership has prodded its allies in Lebanon to speed up the government’s formation, saying it is essential in helping the country face internal and external challenges, a senior March 8 source said Thursday.
The source said although Syria was preoccupied with an internal popular uprising, it viewed the formation of the government in Lebanon with urgency.
“Syrian officials have this week been in contact with some Lebanese parties, saying it was very important to form the government as quickly as possible,” the source told The Daily Star.
“The Syrians said they were keen for a strong Lebanon in these challenging times,” the source said.
More than three months after Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati was tasked with forming a new government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet, the formation process is still being held up by discussions over who will receive certain portfolios.
One major hurdle is the row over the key Interior Ministry position, which is being contested by President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.
Aoun accused Mikati Tuesday of having “no intention” to form a government and reiterated his demand that the Interior Ministry portfolio be allotted to a member of his Change and Reform bloc, the second largest bloc in Parliament after Hariri’s Future bloc. Sleiman was reported to be adamant on retaining Ziyad Baroud in the post.
A source close to the Cabinet formation process said efforts were under way to find “a compromise candidate” for the Interior Ministry acceptable to both Sleiman and Aoun.
As part of facilitating the Cabinet formation efforts, it had been suggested that Aoun would name or propose a candidate acceptable to Sleiman, the source said.
“A solution to the problem over the Interior Ministry portfolio is the key to the formation of the Cabinet,” the source told The Daily Star.
For his part, caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi said that despite the unrest in Syria, the Syrian leadership supported stability in Lebanon and the formation of a government.
“Therefore, we have to carry out our duty and transcend the logic that has so far governed the Cabinet formation equation. This logic is unsound and unacceptable,” Aridi told a news conference Thursday. He was apparently referring to the bickering by the main parties involved in the process over who will get which portfolios.
Speaker Nabih Berri has said that the delay in the government’s formation was part of “a conspiracy” against Lebanon and Syria.
Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, called for the formation of a national salvation government to save the country from the threats of instability as a result of the wave of popular uprisings sweeping the Arab world.
“A national salvation government is a national necessity to spare the country the conspiracies and strife that are sweeping the region. Lebanon must not remain without a government that works to resolve the unsolved problems and successive crises,” Qabalan said in a statement. He urged all Lebanese factions to consult with each other and work together so that Lebanon would be “the solid rock on which all evil conspiracies would be shattered.”
Separately, caretaker Minister of State Jean Ogassapian called on Mikati to step down, saying there was no reason for not forming the government.
“All of the hurdles said to be obstructing the Cabinet’s formation are merely superficial. The main problem lies with the other side’s unwillingness to form the government and its desire to paralyze constitutional institutions, in order to serve dubious future projects,” Ogassapian told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
He said that after resigning from the role of forming the Cabinet, Mikati should inform the Lebanese people that the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance was leading him and the country to destruction.
Baabda MP Alan Aoun, a nephew of FPM leader Aoun, called on Mikati to act to form the Cabinet. “The decision to form the government is in the hands of the one who is coordinating the formation process. He must be decisive. We don’t understand the reason for indecisiveness,” Aoun told the Voice of Lebanon.
“It is better to confront the regional developments with a government even if it isn’t a national unity government,” he said.
Aoun added that the FPM’s demand for the Interior Ministry portfolio was a just one “because we want a decisive authority for this ministry to back the reforms in it.”
Beirut MP Atef Majdalani, from Hariri’s Future bloc, said that a solution for the crisis lay in returning to “an internal dialogue on the transition to the state, preserving it, putting an end to the threat of arms, and achieving justice.”
Also on Voice of Lebanon, Majdalani accused Aoun of obstructing reconciliation efforts with the aim of obtaining the largest share of ministerial posts.