Sources closely following up the deliberations to form a new government say that contrary to Speaker Nabih Berri’s remarks Wednesday about prayers being needed to accelerate the process, the birth of the Cabinet is actually in desperate need of constitutional experts, psychiatrists and psychics to tackle the causes behind the delay.
The task of constitutional experts would consist of reconciling the stances of Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun regarding the mechanisms that govern the formation of a government.
Mikati argues that according to the Constitution, the task of forming a government is the sole responsibility of the president and the prime minister-designate and parliamentary blocs should not be allowed to interfere in their job.
On the other hand, Aoun maintains that lawmakers, who will grant the new Cabinet a vote of confidence, are the sole decision-makers and should impose their will on the prime minister-designate, who should abide by their will.
In practice, it has by now become obvious that Mikati was seeking to include members loyal to him and President Michel Sleiman in the new government so as to acquire one-third-plus-one of seats inside the Cabinet, or what is commonly referred to in Lebanon’s political jargon as the “blocking third” – if more than one-third of ministers resign, a government falls, as in the case of January’s collapse of the Saad Hariri-led government.
But Aoun has vociferously opposed Mikati’s logic, arguing that it ran counter to democratic principles. Although they haven’t made their stance public so far, other factions in the majority March 8 coalition see eye-to-eye with Aoun.
These factions argue, in cynical fashion, that if Mikati insists on carrying on with his plan, he would have to approach MPs from his small parliamentary bloc and others loyal to Sleiman to secure a vote of confidence for his Cabinet.
As for psychiatrists, political sources believe that skilled professionals are needed to sort out the missing chemistry between Aoun and Mikati, which surfaced ever since consultations to form a new Cabinet kicked off.
Berri’s aide MP Ali Hassan Khalil and Hajj Hussein Khalil, political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who are together referred to as the “Two Khalils” in Lebanese political circles, have been asked to negotiate with Mikati on behalf of Aoun.
Finally, psychics should be employed to predict the amount of pressure that Nasrallah might have exerted, or will have to exert, on his ally Aoun to convince the latter soften his stance. These psychics should also be able to determine whether Damascus will attempt to convince Sleiman and Aoun to put aside their personal demands and make concessions that could help the new Cabinet see the light.
In the meantime, the lunch banquet Mikati hosted in honor of the Two Khalils Wednesday might not have achieved any breakthroughs on the Cabinet formation front, but the lunch certainly provided a forum to discuss a political road map that should be adopted to facilitate the birth of the new government.