Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam’s rejection of a national unity Cabinet is putting him on a collision course with March 8 parties which insist on an all-embracing government to supervise the parliamentary elections, political sources said Thursday.
Also, Salam’s reported refusal to grant veto power to the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, as well as his support for the “Baabda Declaration” as the new government’s policy statement, are likely to further complicate the Cabinet formation process, the sources said.
Salam, who briefed President Michel Sleiman on the outcome of his nonbinding consultations with parliamentary blocs, rejected in remarks published Thursday March 8 demands for the formation of a national unity government.
The Beirut MP, who won a sweeping parliamentary endorsement for his appointment, also rejected granting any party a blocking third or veto power, which has been set as a condition by March 8.
Referring to the conflicting demands, Salam told As-Safir newspaper: “Some of these demands are not achievable because the government’s central mission is to prepare for parliamentary elections; it can’t be a national unity or political government, or a government of leading politicians.”
“We want a homogeneous government which, as one team, can be productive. Its work cannot be obstructed by a blocking third, political differences or disputes over portfolios,” Salam said.
He added that he would bow out if his efforts to form a new Cabinet reached a dead end.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Sleiman at Baabda Palace, Salam said: “Our focus is now on the Cabinet formation ... Certainly our main concern is to fulfill the hopes and ambitions of all the Lebanese.”
“We have decided to switch to “OFF” mode and you’ll have to bear with us for several days without any statements,” he added.
Two days of consultations with parliamentary blocs which ended Wednesday saw March 8 politicians urge the formation of a national unity government, while March 14 groups demanded a neutral or technocratic Cabinet.
Visitors quoted Salam as saying that he wanted to benefit from the unanimity over his appointment by seeking to form a Cabinet quickly, while rejecting conditions by any political party. The premier-designate is determined to form a small Cabinet of 18 or 20 members who are not candidates for Parliament, they said.
Salam’s rejection of a national unity Cabinet went against a statement by Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s 12-member bloc, who said after meeting the premier-designate Tuesday that the bloc demanded “an all-embracing political government to supervise the elections.”
Similar views were echoed Thursday by Hezbollah’s allies, Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement and Kesrouan MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.
“We demand a national unity government to supervise the elections. The bloc upholds the tripartite equation, ‘The Army, the people and the resistance,’ as the basis for the government’s policy statement,” Zahrani MP Michel Musa, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, told The Daily Star.
Commenting on Salam’s rejection of a national unity Cabinet, Metn MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc told The Daily Star: “We demand a government of national understanding in which all parties are represented because the country is going through a sensitive stage. The new government requires political cover to face challenges.”
Hezbollah officials want “The Army, the people and the resistance” mentioned in the new government’s policy statement, while March 14 parties reject the formula and seek the inclusion of the “Baabda Declaration,” in the policy statement.
The declaration, endorsed by the rival March 8 and March 14 camps in June 2012, calls for distancing Lebanon from the conflict in Syria.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri supported the “Baabda Declaration” as the new Cabinet’s policy statement. Asked to comment on the tripartite equation, Hariri told reporters after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Paris late Wednesday night: “The most important thing is the people, and the people want elections. Let’s hold the elections, which are a constitutional event through which the Lebanese achieve their ambition. Regarding the policy statement, there is the Baabda Declaration, which was approved by all political parties.”
The EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst, after meeting Salam at his residence in Moseitbeh, voiced the EU’s support for the premier-designate and hoped for a speedy Cabinet formation.
Salam also received a congratulatory letter from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who affirmed her country’s support for Lebanon amid regional instability. Meanwhile, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati signed a draft law to suspend electoral deadlines and referred it to Sleiman.
Parliament approved Wednesday a draft law to suspend deadlines applicable under the 1960 electoral law until May 19.