Lebanon News

Jumblatt draws fire for rejecting 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal

Siniora met with Berri at the speaker’s residence in Ain al-Tineh.

BEIRUT: Walid Jumblatt came under fire Thursday by March 14 MPs over his opposition to the “three eights” proposal to form Lebanon’s new government, one that could be a game-changing move in the Cabinet formation process, stalled for nearly six months.

Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, went back on his support for the 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal because he feared a confrontation with Hezbollah, and that the PSP leader’s stances were motivated by his interests alone.

“Jumblatt looks out for his political interests in every political circumstance. Maybe this is his right. So I understand his stance but I don’t support it because his position aims at serving his interests,” Fatfat told a local television station.

“I think he went back on his support for this formula because ... he fears any confrontation with Hezbollah. He has said that more than once,” Fatfat said.

Jumblatt called for reconsidering the proposal Wednesday, saying Lebanon was in need of an all-embracing government to confront major issues.

He is believed to have earlier voiced support for the formula, which is backed by the March 14 coalition.

Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, who was nominated in April, proposed a 24-member Cabinet lineup equally shared by March 8, March 14 and centrists.

The centrists refer to President Michel Sleiman, Salam and Jumblatt.

Jumblatt’s new stance came two days after Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah dismissed the proposal as unrealistic.

Nasrallah argued that under the 8-8-8 formula, the March 14 coalition would actually have 10 ministers because Salam should be seen as a member of the March 14 camp, according to the proposal.

It is unlikely the new government can win a vote of confidence in Parliament if Jumblatt and MPs from his bloc withhold support.

For his part, Beirut MP Ammar Houri, also from the Future bloc, said Jumblatt’s new position came after considering the civil strife of May 2008 and the events of January 2011, when supporters of Hezbollah fanned out in Beirut’s streets to pressure for the nomination of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati as prime minister.

In May 2008, pro-Hezbollah gunmen took over large swathes of west Beirut and clashed with PSP fighters in the Chouf after the government of then-Prime Minister Fouad Siniora decided to dismantle the party’s telecommunications network.

Houri said consensus about the makeup of the government should not be a prerequisite for its formation. “Previous governments that relied on a consensus formula have proved to be failures,” he told a local radio station.

Commenting on Jumblatt’s position, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said: “Actually, an all-embracing government is one in which all parties are represented and I believe that each side is treated equally under the ‘three eights’ formula.”

Speaking to reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport after returning from Rome, Rai said that the procrastination of politicians over the Cabinet formation was unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora paid a visit to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

Speaking to reporters after the two-hour meeting, Siniora said the discussions were constructive, refusing to divulge details on the topics discussed.

“Discussions tackled several topics of interest to the Lebanese. This dialogue was serious, useful and constructive and we agreed on continuing it in the coming days,” Siniora said. “No doubt this is a step on the right track in efforts to find common ground.”

A source close to Berri said that discussions focused on the speaker’s initiative to break the political deadlock in the country.

Berri proposed a five-day conclave of Dialogue sessions attended by March 8 and March 14 leaders in addition to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to address divisive issues including the makeup and the policy statement of a new Cabinet, a national defense strategy, means to end Lebanese intervention in Syria and talks on a new electoral law.

But the March 14 alliance, spearheaded by the Future Movement, argues that the initiative infringes on the powers of the president and the prime minister-designate who are, according to the Constitution, the two people tasked with forming the Cabinet.

“The meeting addressed this disputed item in particular,” the source said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said that, save for Hezbollah, all political groups were ready to respond positively to Berri’s initiative.

“What’s the benefit then [from the initiative]? ... Hezbollah is not ready for any serious discussion over the state and adheres to its ideology, ideas, political project and strategic ties, and insists on hijacking the strategic decisions of the Lebanese state, the Army and security bodies,” Geagea said in an interview to be published by Egypt’s Rose El Youssef Magazine on Saturday.

Geagea added that Lebanon needed a new government capable of making its own decisions, rather than one consistently disrupted by Hezbollah.

Separately, Berri called on Parliament’s joint committees to hold a session next Tuesday to discuss an agenda of 12 draft laws.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 27, 2013, on page 3.

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