Lebanon News

Mikati might propose small salvation Cabinet : source

FILE: Najib Mikati attends a Parliament session at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, May 28, 2020. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament, HO)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati might propose a 14-member “salvation Cabinet” made up of political magnates if his envisaged 24-member government of nonpartisan specialists fails to break the yearlong deadlock, a source close to the PM-designate said Sunday.

“The 14-member salvation Cabinet is one of the options for Prime Minister Mikati if his proposal for a 24-member government of nonpartisan specialists does not work,” a source close to Mikati told The Daily Star.

However, the source stressed that Mikati’s efforts are currently concentrated more on the 24-member government than on a 14-member Cabinet made up of political magnates.

The source acknowledged that efforts are underway to overcome “remaining known obstacles” to the formation of a new government to enact reforms and rescue the crises-hit country from all-out economic collapse.

Asked whether Mikati would meet with Aoun next week in their 14th get-together since his designation on July 26 to form a new government, the source said this depended on progress to resolve differences between the two leaders on some ministries.

As his proposed Cabinet of 24 nonpartisan specialists remained stalled by a dispute with Aoun over who would control the Economy and Social Affairs ministries, Mikati was reported to be preparing to push for a 14-member “salvation government” to lift the country out of the “catastrophic crisis.”

Quoting political sources, An-Nahar newspaper said Mikati was inclined to propose this Cabinet lineup to Aoun next week, and if the president rejected it, the PM-designate would “overturn the table without knowing what decision he would take.”

There was no immediate comment from Baabda Palace on Mikati’s proposal.

But a source familiar with the government formation process doubted Mikati would go ahead with the 14-member proposal. "It's brinksmanship by Mikati," the source told The Daily Star. "It's more a back-to-square-one threat than a real option."

An official source said Mikati’s proposal has been made public in the media and not officially. “The president has not been officially informed of Mikati’s proposal. Therefore, the president cannot comment on a media proposal,” the source told The Daily Star.

But MP Salim Khoury from the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc headed by MP Gebran Bassil said Mikati’s proposal for a 14-member Cabinet might be met with positivity from Aoun.

“President Aoun has made all the concessions and facilities required for the birth of the government. He has been dealing positively with anything proposed to him, even when discussions touched on names [of potential ministers],” Khoury said in a local radio interview. “There is a big possibility to resolve the remaining hurdles to the formation of the government.”

Lebanon has been left without a fully functioning government since the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet on Aug. 10 last year in the aftermath of the massive explosion that devastated Beirut Port, killed 214 people, wounded thousands and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.

According to a report published by An-Nahar Saturday, the proposed Cabinet list includes, in addition to Mikati, former premier Tammam Salam, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, former MP Sleiman Frangieh, head of the Marada Movement, MP Ibrahim Kanaan from the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc, MP George Adwan from the Lebanese Forces’ parliamentary Strong Republic bloc, MP Yassin Jaber from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, former Minister Mohammad Fneish from Hezbollah, Jihad Murtada, a Shiite loyal to Berri, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, former ministers Elias Murr and Ghassan Salameh, former deputy Parliament speaker Farid Makkari, and MP Hagop Pakradounian from the Armenian Tashnag Party.

However, Mikati’s proposed 14-member Cabinet made up of political magnates would undermine the French initiative designed to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War and avert a much-feared social implosion. The initiative, which was endorsed by Lebanon’s rival political leaders during French President Emmanuel Macron’s second visit to Beirut Sept. 1 last year, called for the formation of a “mission government” made up of nonpartisan specialists to carry out a string of reforms contained in it.

Furthermore, such a Cabinet would discourage the international community from coming forth with its promised aid to the cash-strapped country, which is wrestling with multiple crises, including an unprecedented financial downturn that has pushed more than half of Lebanon’s 6 million population below the poverty line.

Mikati’s 14-member Cabinet proposal came a few days after Aoun and the PM-designate engaged in a war of words over responsibility for obstructing the government formation, shattering hopes for breaking the Cabinet impasse.

In a statement released by the presidency’s media office Thursday, Aoun rejected accusations that he was blocking the government formation with his demand for a blocking one-third plus one (veto power). He was responding to a statement released by Mikati’s media office earlier in the day which implicitly accused Aoun and the FPM of obstructing the government formation. Aoun has denied seeking to gain veto power in the new government.

Future Movement MP Hadi Hobeish said in a TV interview Sunday that veto power was the “only dilemma” facing the Cabinet formation. He said if a government is not formed, the Future bloc headed by Hariri has options, including resignation from Parliament.

Meanwhile, head of the powerful General Security, retired Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, was reported to be preparing to resume his mediation effort to resolve the Cabinet crisis. Ibrahim is set to resume his shuttle visits between Aoun and Mikati early next week in a bid to overcome the last remaining hurdle delaying the Cabinet formation: A rift over who would control the Economy and Social Affairs ministries.

Mikati was reported to be insisting on the Economy Ministry so that he could participate through his representative in this ministry in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a $10 billion bailout package to save the country’s ailing economy.

Ibrahim is also striving to settle a dispute between Aoun and Mikati over who should name two Christian ministers who are not part of the president’s share to ensure that they would not take sides if the need arose within the Cabinet for voting on crucial matters.

The FPM threatened to take action in the face of what it called any “stalling” over the formation of a new government. It also implicitly accused former premiers of obstructing the Cabinet formation with the aim of pushing Mikati to step down.

“Those who claim to be supporting the prime minister-designate and at the same time are obstructing the government formation to push the PM-designate into stepping down bear responsibility for the resulting social explosion that will threaten security and stability,” said a statement issued after the weekly online meeting Saturday of the FPM’s Political Council chaired by Bassil.

It was clearly referring to former premiers Saad Hariri, Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam who, along with other parliamentary blocs, nominated Mikati for the premiership after Hariri relinquished his efforts to form a government on July 15, nearly nine months after his designation following Aoun’s rejection of his proposed Cabinet lineup of 24 nonpartisan experts with no veto power to any side.





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