Efforts to forge an agreement on a new Cabinet appeared to be stalled Thursday as political rhetoric ramped up ahead of next week’s parliamentary sessions, the first since MPs extended their mandate and postponed elections. There has been no progress in attempts to form a new Cabinet, political sources said following a meeting between Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam andCaretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, a representative of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
Abu Faour returned this week from a visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss the Cabinet formation and other issues.
Lebanon has been without a functioning government since the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati in March, and halting efforts to form a new Cabinet have yet to make progress.
Sources close to the Cabinet formation efforts said Salam would meet President Michel Sleiman in the next 48 hours to discuss the issue.
The sources said the different political factions have not softened their conditions on joining the Cabinet.
The March 14 political bloc, led by Hariri, refuses to join a government that includes Hezbollah unless the party pulls out its fighters from Syria, where it is backing the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.
The March 8 camp insists on retaining veto power over government decisions and says the number of ministers from each bloc should mirror their size in Parliament, giving them a majority of ministers.
The deadlock reigns with the approach of next week’s parliamentary sessions, promising renewed political battles over the term of the Army chief and the status of government electricity workers.
In its first sessions since the extension of its term went into effect last week, Parliament will discuss 45 agenda items over three days that are already drawing heated political statements.
The items include a proposal that would extend the term of Army chief Gen. Jean Kahwagi by raising the retirement age of top security officials.
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun is determined to challenge the move.
The plan to extend Kahwagi’s term “is an illegal act,” Aoun said in remarks published Thursday. “I will challenge this law.”
“There are laws that must be respected; otherwise why do we get [laws] put into place and then make exceptions?” he told the local Al-Akhbar newspaper.
Kahwagi, who reaches retirement age in September, is currently at the center of a heated debate pitting Aoun against former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, who both support the extension of the Army chief’s term.
Geagea said Wednesday that Aoun’s remarks regarding Kahwagi’s extension reflect a “populist and commercial mentality.”
Aoun, who said he is against the principle of extending the terms of state employees, believes Kahwagi’s extension would be a “grave mistake that sabotages the Army and the hierarchy.”
The FPM chief has asserted that his opinion should be of paramount importance when it comes to the post, because it is reserved for the Maronite sect.
Jbeil MP Simon Abi Ramia told the Central News Agency that the FPM bloc would file a challenge to any law that extends Kahwagi’s term.
The comments appeared to reflect the belief that Aoun’s allies, Hezbollah and Amal, would not back his drive to block an extension of Kahwagi’s term in office.
Parliament’s agenda also contains legislation that would make contract workers at Electricite du Liban into full-time employees, which sparked a long-running political dispute last year, when contractors who went on strike for three months in the summer.
Gebran Bassil, an FPM official and the caretaker energy minister, proposed last year a reduction in the number of workers at the state-run company, arguing that it was being run inefficiently.