Lebanon's new PM faces 'March 8' showdown
[Lebanon's PM-designate] Tammam Salam is adamant on not giving veto power to any party in the new Cabinet and wants key ministerial portfolios to be rotated among the sects, a source close to the prime minister-designate said Sunday, in a stance signaling a clash with the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
“Salam insists that all ministerial portfolios be alternated among all the sects, communities and political parties,” the source told The Daily Star.
“Likewise, Salam is adamant on not giving the blocking third [veto power] to any party in the new government. He is trying to form a centrist ministerial bloc in the Cabinet in which no party will enjoy veto power,” the source said. “Salam is striving to put together a homogeneous government that can be productive.”
His comments came a day after Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the March 8 parties rejected the principle of rotation of key ministerial portfolios which was apparently aimed at countering Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who insists on seeing his party retain the Energy and Telecommunications ministries.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies were also reported to have said they would not back off from their demand for veto power in the new Cabinet.
Salam, who met last week with representatives from March 8 parties, including Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, Hezbollah and the FPM, is waiting for answers from these parties to his proposals concerning the makeup and role of the new Cabinet, the source said.
Based on these parties’ responses, the source said, Salam would move to a new phase in his attempts to form a Cabinet by discussing with the rival factions names of potential candidates to the government and the distribution of portfolios.
However, the source warned that Salam would not let his efforts to drag on for months as happened with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other former prime ministers who took more than five months to form a new government.
“Salam will not allow his Cabinet formation attempts to linger for three or four months. If he finds that his efforts are being obstructed by any party, he will take a stance,” the source said, clearly referring to the possibility of Salam bowing out of the premiership attempt.Salam wants a nonpolitical government whose members will not run in the parliamentary elections and do not belong to political parties. He has said the main task of the new government is to hold the elections, scheduled in June.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies are demanding the formation of a national unity or political government. Their demand runs counter to the March 14 coalition’s call for the formation of a neutral, or technocratic, Cabinet to oversee the upcoming elections.
Earlier Sunday, Salam urged the rival factions to avoid political rhetoric that fueled sectarian tensions, saying this would have a negative impact on the country’s stability.
“Lebanon is passing today through a delicate stage that requires everyone to be aware of their responsibility in warding off dangers and preventing the drift into political rhetoric that inflames confessional and sectarian tensions which are posing a threat to our peace and the country’s immunity,” Mohammad Mashnouq said in a speech delivered on Salam’s behalf during a ceremony organized by the Jarrah Scout Association at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah renewed its demand for the formation of a political government to supervise the elections.
“We are still giving a serious opportunity to form a national government reflecting the real representation of [the parties’ political] size and weight,” Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah told a memorial event in south Lebanon. “Lebanon needs at this stage a strong and capable political government that can hold the elections on time.”
Fadlallah said his party wanted to see the elections held on the basis of a new electoral law.
“We have said that Christian consensus is essential to reaching a new [electoral] law and proportional representation is the main crossing point to allow the participation of everyone,” he said.
A parliamentary subcommittee, comprised of March 8 and March 14 lawmakers, last week suspended its meetings after failing to narrow the gap over a new electoral system to replace the controversial 1960 law.
“Efforts are underway to reach an agreement on a new electoral law. The options are open to a hybrid vote law and other proposals,” Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad, a subcommittee member, told The Daily Star.
He said that Berri was holding bilateral talks with the parties in an attempt to reach accord on a new electoral law.
Berri last week submitted a proposal to Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt that could break the electoral law deadlock. Jumblatt has yet to respond to the proposal, the details of which were not disclosed.
Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel urged Parliament to endorse “a modern electoral law” based on proportional representation. “Holding the parliamentary elections is a national democratic duty that strengthens the international community’s confidence in our country,” Charbel said, speaking at the inauguration of the renovated Baabda Municipality building.
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