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Incompatible demands complicate Cabinet talks
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Conflicting demands by parliamentary blocs on the makeup of the new Cabinet presage a difficult road ahead for Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, as he began Tuesday the first day of his consultations to form a government.

The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance’s demand for the formation of a national unity Cabinet or a political government to supervise the upcoming parliamentary elections ran contrary to the March 14 coalition’s call for a Cabinet of technocrats whose members were not candidates for the elections.

The conflicting demands, which cast gloom over Salam’s attempts to quickly form a new Cabinet, dampened the overwhelming endorsement he won from the March 8 and March 14 camps for his nomination.

Salam has also won support for his appointment from Arab and foreign countries and the United Nations, which called for a swift formation of a new Cabinet to hold the elections.

Salam met with leaders of major parliamentary blocs on the first of two-day nonbinding consultations to assemble a new Cabinet to replace the government of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati who resigned last month.

He first met in Parliament separately with Speaker Nabih Berri and Mikati before consulting on the shape of the new Cabinet with the parliamentary blocs of Berri, Hezbollah, the Future bloc, MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces, the National Struggle Front of Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt and the blocs of Zahle MPs, Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh and Aley MP Talal Arslan, in addition to Metn MP Michel Murr and Beirut MP Nayla Tueni.

Salam meets with more parliamentary blocs and independent lawmakers Wednesday before embarking on the tough task of putting together a Cabinet acceptable to the feuding parties.

The prime-minister designate has said that the main task of his government would be to hold the elections, scheduled for June, which face a probable delay in the absence of an agreement over a new electoral law to replace the existing 1960 voting system.

Salam said Monday that he would not be running in the elections and hoped ministers in the next Cabinet would follow his lead.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, which was behind Salam’s nomination to the premiership, called for the formation of a “homogenous” Cabinet whose members are not running in the elections. “We wished him [Salam] success in his endeavor to come up with a Cabinet lineup capable of working as a homogenous task team in harmony and whose members are not candidates [for the elections],” Siniora told reporters after meeting Salam along with bloc members.

He said the Lebanese were “hungry” for a government that could revitalize the country’s struggling economy and hold the elections as soon as possible: “The new government is an election government and it must accomplish this mission.”

Siniora and Deputy Speaker Farid Makari asked Salam to rotate ministries among political parties, particularly the Finance Ministry.

This was apparently in response to Aoun’s demand for retaining the Energy and Telecommunications ministries for members of his bloc who have held these ministries in previous Cabinets.

Aoun demanded the formation of a national unity Cabinet to hold the elections and meet challenges to the country’s stability as a result of the popular upheavals in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, while Hezbollah called for a political government.

“A national unity Cabinet is capable of confronting events. We do not only want the elections to be held, but to face several events, especially since the [security] situation is not stable,” Aoun told reporters after meeting Salam with members of his bloc. “Only a national unity government can face these events.”

MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s 12-member bloc in Parliament, said the bloc wished Salam success in his mission to form a new Cabinet, “particularly in this delicate stage through which Lebanon is passing.”

“We demanded an all-embracing political government to supervise the elections and run the country’s affairs and in which political parties are represented according to their relative [political] weight and presence in Parliament,” Raad said.

Mikati demanded during his meeting with Salam a quick formation of a new government to hold the elections.

“During the meeting with the prime minister-designate, we discussed many issues ... and asked for a swift formation of the Cabinet because that would lessen the burden of the caretaker [government] in these circumstances through which the country is going,” Mikati said. “We demanded that the aim of the new Cabinet should be holding the parliamentary elections.”

Jumblatt, an advocate of a national unity government, vowed to facilitate Salam’s mission in the Cabinet’s formation.

“I told Prime Minister-designate Salam Bey Salam that we will facilitate his mission in all fields and we will not put any preconditions in order to attain stability,” he told reporters after meeting Salam.

Jumblatt said Salam would find an appropriate formula for the formation of a Cabinet acceptable to all the parties that would hold the elections on time and preserve stability.

Arslan said he asked Salam to form a national unity government comprising all the parties. “The new government should be a salvation government because the country needs to shield against challenges,” he said.

LF MP Elie Keyrouz reiterated his bloc’s support for “a neutral government of technocrats” whose members are not running in the elections. He said the new government should adopt the Baabda Declaration as its policy statement: “The major role of the government is to prepare and supervise the parliamentary elections.”

The Future bloc said the Lebanese were looking forward for the birth of a new Cabinet away from “political bickering and sharing of government posts.”

“The Lebanese aspire for a new government that protects their interests and works to achieve their demands and hopes in confronting the pressure and burdens of life,” the bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting.

source By Hussein Dakroub

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