“This time, the meeting lasted half an hour and not a few minutes. When I return from my trip [to the UK and New York] I will meet again with President Aoun. And I will not leave the palace until I have formed a government, even if I have to sleep in Baabda,” caretaker Prime Minster Najib Mikati said Thursday from the presidential palace.
This attitude is surprising, to say the least, especially since the meeting between Mikati and President Michel Aoun took place at a time when their relations are at their lowest.
The president’s camp has consistently accused Mikati of deliberately blocking the cabinet formation process, arguing that the caretaker cabinet cannot exercise the prerogatives of the head of state after Aoun’s term in office ends Oct. 31.
For his part, Mikati, notably backed by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, has shown intransigence in the face of the conditions imposed by the Aounists to facilitate the formation of a government.
Do Mikati’s comments from Thursday suggest a possible breakthrough?
“We hope that the optimism displayed by Mikati this time is much more than a mere impression,” a source close to the presidency told L’Orient-Le Jour. The source requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of ongoing political developments.
“If yesterday’s discussions focused on the outgoing prime minister’s trip to London [to attend the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II] and to New York [to attend the UN General Assembly], the next meeting will focus exclusively on the government formation process, the source added. “It seems that the caretaker Prime minister has realized the need to form a full government as soon as possible.”.
A push from France and Hezbollah
How to explain this sudden change of heart, when just a few days ago Mikati claimed that in the event of a presidential vacancy, the caretaker cabinet would exercise the prerogatives of the head of state by virtue of the constitution?
Mikati’s new attitude resulted from recent contacts with the French and with Hezbollah, which fears a deterioration of the security situation in the country in case of a total vacancy in the executive branch, a source with knowledge of the matter told L’Orient-Le Jour. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of ongoing developments. Hezbollah has reportedly put all its weight behind efforts to accelerate the formation of a new cabinet.
Aoun’s veiled threats in this regard were what apparently pushed Hezbollah to ramp up efforts to reach a conclusion on the cabinet.
Last week, Aoun threatened to leave Baabda only if the situation was “normal,” without further elaboration.
“We want to see the government formed quickly. But we can only offer advice to the stakeholders involved,” a Hezbollah official told L’Orient-Le Jour on condition of anonymity.
“We are for any option that can achieve this goal,” he added, in reference to local media reports that Hezbollah may have convinced Aoun to abandon the idea of appointing six additional ministers to the outgoing government.
Earlier Thursday, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem commented on the matter.
“It is possible to keep the same ministers or to make slight changes [to the cabinet lineup] in order to allow the establishment of a government,” he said at a meeting of party members.
He stressed that government formation “would facilitate the election of a president.”
“We must not cling to conditions because the interest of the country lies in the formation of a government and the election of a new head of state,” Kassem said in an implicit message to the presidential camp.
Despite these pressures, it would be premature to celebrate the end of the governmental impasse just yet.
“Everything will depend on the contacts that the caretaker prime minister will have with the president upon his return,” a source close to the Baabda Palace said.
“This time, the meeting lasted half an hour and not a few minutes. When I return from my trip [to the UK and New York] I will meet again with President Aoun. And I will not leave the palace until I have formed a government, even if I have to sleep in Baabda,” caretaker Prime Minster Najib Mikati said Thursday from the presidential palace.This attitude is surprising, to say the least,...