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Salam holding behind-the-scenes discussions on Cabinet formation
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Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is making behind-the-scenes contacts with all concerned parties in a bid to accelerate the formation of a new Cabinet, a source close to Salam said Monday.

Salam is open to talks with all the parties with the aim of facilitating the formation of a new Cabinet, the source told The Daily Star.

Public and behind-the-scenes consultations with all the parties on the Cabinet formation are ongoing, the source said. Agreement has been reached in principle on the formation of a 24-member Cabinet that would exclude ministers of state.

The source added that a second meeting between Salam and a delegation of senior March 8 officials could be held at any time to follow up on last weeks discussions on the makeup and role of the new government.

According to the source, Salam wants a nonpolitical government whose members will not run in the parliamentary elections and do not belong to political parties. Salam, a moderate lawmaker allied with the March 14 coalition, has said the main task of the new government was to hold the elections, scheduled in June.

Hezbollah and its March 8 allies are demanding the formation of a national unity or political government. This demand runs counter to the March 14 coalitions call for the formation of a neutral, or technocrat, Cabinet to oversee the elections.

Salam has met in the past few days separately with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Speaker Nabih Berri, and caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour from the PSP as part of his consultations on the Cabinet formation.

He is expected to meet soon with a Hezbollah official for this purpose, a senior March 8 source said.

Jumblatt Monday urged the March 8 and March 14 parties to facilitate the Cabinet formation, while praising Salams calm and wise approach toward this issue. He also commended Salams refusal to engage in the fray of spoil sharing and his call for the rotation of key portfolios among sects.

We look forward to all political parties facilitating the mission of the [Cabinet] formation so that the country can enter into a new political phase characterized by stability, Jumblatt said in the PSPs Al-Anbaa newspaper.

He added that his party was ready to show flexibility to help reach consensus on a hybrid electoral law: With the emergence of positive signs [that rival groups will support] the draft law that combines a winner-takes-all system with proportional representation, we reiterate the PSPs readiness to show the needed flexibility and make further positive steps in order to boost the chances of consensus over a new electoral law.

His remarks came as March 8 and March 14 lawmakers were scheduled to meet Tuesday for a new round of talks on a new electoral law.

The lawmakers, part of a parliamentary subcommittee tasked with devising a new electoral law, failed last week to narrow the gap on a new hybrid vote formula to replace the 1960 system.

Parliamentary sources said they expected the PSP representative on the subcommittee, MP Akram Shouheib, to adopt a new stance on Berris hybrid law proposal, which calls for 50 percent of the lawmakers to be elected via proportional representation and the other half under a winner-takes-all system.

MP Alain Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movements representative on the subcommittee, told The Daily Star he expected the panel to hold more meetings if the PSPs stance on Berris hybrid proposal was encouraging.

Kataeb Party leader ex-President Amin Gemayel called for the endorsement of a new electoral law that would ensure real partnership and protect national unity.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea threatened to boycott the parliamentary subcommittees meetings, citing political maneuvering by some parties.

A source close to Geagea told The Daily Star that the LF would make a decision at Tuesdays subcommittee meeting. If there is no serious discussion, we will boycott the meeting, the LF source said.