President Michel Aoun called Monday for the formation of a “balanced” government that would represent all the parties to break the monthslong stalemate, in what appeared to be the first public response to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s stalled draft Cabinet formula.
Aoun also rejected accusations that the presidency was responsible for hindering the formation of a new Cabinet, shifting blame to parties that squabble over key ministerial posts and constitutional prerogatives instead of tackling the “primary issue” of government formation itself.
“Once the [Cabinet] formula is balanced, the formation of a government will take place based on criteria and principles that I launched in my speech on Aug. 1 and which received a favorable response from all the parties,” Aoun said, speaking to journalists on a Middle East Airlines plane that flew him to Strasbourg, where he is set to address the European Parliament Tuesday. “It’s not permissible for any side or sect to monopolize [Cabinet representation], or marginalize one side in favor of another, or exclude anyone.”
Aoun’s remarks appeared to refer to former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, who has insisted on naming all three ministers reserved for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet. The PSP has not relented in its demand, despite that fact that political rivals, including Lebanese Democratic Party chief MP Talal Arslan, have insisted that it would be unfair for Joumblatt to represent the entire sect.
In his speech on Army Day on Aug. 1, Aoun called for the formation of an all-inclusive government that would not exclude any faction, based on the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections.
He stressed that the new government “should embrace all Lebanese components without marginalizing any element or canceling its role and without monopolizing the representation of any single sect.”
Last week, Hariri presented Aoun with his first draft Cabinet formula since May 24, when he was appointed to form a government, but it failed to break the deadlock, now in its fourth month.
Aoun voiced a number of reservations over the allocation of ministerial posts, mainly to the Lebanese Forces and the PSP.
The formula has not only failed to gain the support of Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement, but it has also sparked a heated row between the FPM, founded by Aoun, and Hariri’s Future Movement over the prerogatives of the president and the prime minister-designate in forming a government.
In addition to the issue of Druze representation, the LF-FPM rivalry is a key stumbling block to the formation of a new Cabinet, as both sides claim they deserve a certain share of the ministerial seats reserved for the Christian community. Parties have called for clear Cabinet formation criteria that reflect the results of the elections.
Aoun Monday lamented that the current debate over the issue of “prerogatives” was being used to distract attention from the “primary issue”: the formation of a government. “The Constitution calls for partnership between the presidency and the premiership in the [government] formation. So let [people] explain to us what that means. There is no room for interpretation with the presence of a constitutional text,” he said.
While the Constitution tasks the prime minister-designate with forming the government, it also requires that the Cabinet lineup be issued in consensus with the president.
Commenting on reports that he might send a letter to Parliament this month explaining the hurdles facing the government formation and urging Hariri to accelerate the formation, Aoun said: “It’s possible, and this is a constitutional right.”
Meanwhile, Muslim religious leaders used the Islamic New Year, which begins Tuesday, to call for Lebanese unity to overcome the Cabinet formation impasse and the worsening economic crisis.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian called on rival Lebanese politicians to communicate and “rationally” find solutions to what he described as the “dangerous” economic and political situation in the country.
“We are in a major crisis, not only due to the failure to form a government, but also due to the deteriorating economic, financial and social conditions and the deep political divisions,” Derian said in a televised speech on the eve of the new Hijri year. “This situation, in fact, requires solidarity, consensus and an exchange of opinion in a good spirit along with a sincere will to reach solutions to them.”
“We need the calmness and wisdom of senior leaders and their awareness of their big and grave responsibilities. Intransigence will lead nowhere, and nor does real or alleged insistence on prerogatives,” he added.
Expressing solidarity with Hariri in his attempts to form a new government, Derian said: “We support the prime minister-designate in his endeavors to [achieve] national entente, national balance and national revival.”
A top Shiite sheikh also pushed politicians to resolve the government deadlock as quickly as possible, calling on Aoun in particular to give up his Cabinet share to save the country.
“We heard promises, but we didn’t see solutions. ... We call for the quick formation of a partnership and entente government.
“We appeal to his excellency the president, in his capacity as the father of all the Lebanese, and out of keenness on the national interest, to give up his right to a ministerial share in favor of his troublemaker and obstructionist sons,” Lebanon’s Grand Jaafarite Shiite Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Qabalan said in a televised speech on the same occasion.
Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish, one of two Hezbollah ministers in Hariri’s outgoing Cabinet, said a new government could not be formed without total understanding among all the main political parties.
“There is no reason for rhetoric and differences that further complicate the obstacles to the government formation. What is required is to exert efforts and [keep] communications,” Fneish said during a ceremony in south Lebanon to honor students who passed official exams.
“A government cannot be formed without an understanding. The Constitution is clear. The government formation takes place with the participation of all the main parties through an understanding between the prime minister-designate and the president. Therefore, we need to continue efforts to find this understanding,” he added.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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