Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanon has moved a step closer to forming a new government this week after overcoming a number of obstacles that had stood in the way of the more than nine-month process, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
The progress comes after the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance took the decision to relinquish its cabinet demands and accept the “tripartite” formula for the next Beirut government. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, well-informed sources involved in the negotiating process affirmed that a new government could be announced before the end of the month.
The source affirmed that the talks have now entered “the serious phase,” saying that “high-level talks are taking place to reach an agreement regarding a cabinet formula that satisfies all parties.”
Former minister Khalil Hrawi, a political adviser to President Michel Suleiman who is involved in the ongoing talks, confirmed that Lebanon is edging closer to a deal on a new government.
In comments to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, he said: “The atmosphere is positive towards forming an all-embracing 8-8-8 political government.” This much-discussed formula would see eight ministerial portfolios being held by the March 14 Alliance, eight by the March 8 Alliance, and eight being given to independents.
However, questions remain over which ministries will be held by which parties. The March 14 Alliance appears reluctant to offer its rivals equal power, particularly following the recent assassination of well-known Hezbollah critic and former senior government official Mohamed Chatah.
President Suleiman met with minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a representative of Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a representative of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments in the negotiations.
Sources close to Suleiman informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the representatives of Berri and Nasrallah discussed the government negotiations with the president, adding that all parties were drawing closer to an agreement on an 8+8+8 formula. But the source added that negotiations on the details of this national unity formula had stalled with the March 14 Alliance.
Speaking on Monday, senior March 14 Alliance member Samir Geagea claimed that the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance is seeking to “destroy” its political opponents. Geagea, who is also the leader of the Lebanese Forces, was quoted as saying: “The assassination of Chatah was not enough for them [Hezbollah], but they began a series of threats over the phone against MP Ahmad Fatfat and then Mad Chidiad and Nadim Koteish, and finally against MP Strida Geagea.”
“I believe what is going on is a continuation of Chatah’s assassination to destroy March 15,” he told Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper.
However in earlier comments, Suleiman called on all parties to work together to form a cabinet as soon as possible. Speaking during a press conference on Monday, he asked: “In case there isn’t a consensus on a [national] unity cabinet, do we stay without a government? Would a consensus on a government necessarily reflect national consensus?”
“How long can a president keep on rejecting cabinet formulas suggested by the prime minister-designate? How long can the delay go on?” he asked.
On Tuesday, Tammam Salam entered his tenth month as Lebanon’s prime minister-designate. This is the longest period any politician has held the post without successfully forming a government.