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jumblatt def 9Lebanon’s self-appointed kingmaker seems ready to see his influence in the new cabinet diminish.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt has dropped his support for the 8-8-8 cabinet formula in which his centrist bloc , and the 2 main rival camps get equal share of eight ministers each. Instead he is now promoting the 9-9-6 formula that was initially proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri which calls for giving veto power to the two main rival camps March 14 and March 8, but 6 ministers only to the centrist bloc which includes president Suleiman and PM designate Tammam Salam in addition to Jumblatt

“The 8-8-8 formula is dead… the best solution is the 9-9-6 formula which ensures a blocking third to Hezbollah and March 14, while not giving anyone the chance to control the government,” Jumblatt said in remarks published Friday in As-Safir newspaper.

Jumblatt, who is also the head of the National Struggle Front parliamentary bloc admitted that this is not his own idea and that Speaker Nabih Berri had proposed it earlier to resolve the cabinet crisis.

Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has been trying since since his appointment in April to form a cabinet based on giving an equal share to the rival political blocks – March 14 , March 8 and the centrists, but the Hezbollah led March 8 alliance has been insisting on having a bigger share in the cabinet to allow it to veto its decisions . Salam has been opposed to giving any party a veto power ( usually referred to as a blocking third ) and has been insisting that the 8-8-8 formula is in the best interest of Lebanon . He has on several occasions floated the idea of forming a neutral cabinet of technocrats, but Hezbollah and FPM leader MP Michel Aoun have been opposed to this idea too. Meanwhile, the Future Movement and other March 14 parties claim that they will not be part of a cabinet in which Hezbollah participates and this is why Lebanon is still without a government and Najib Mikati is still acting as the caretaker Prime Minister.

The PSP chief, rejected a “fait accompli” government of technocrats , citing Berri’s description of such a cabinet as being “unconstitutional.”

President Michel Suleiman reportedly discussed the issue of cabinet formation based on the 9-9-6 formula with his Iranian counterpart during a meeting at the UN and was planning to visit Saudi Arabia on October 1 to discuss the same with the Saudi Monarch and former PM Saad Hariri but that trip never took place and no proper explanation was ever given for its postponement /cancelation.

Hopes for a breakthrough in the 30-year estrangement between the U.S. and Iran had an impact on Suleiman’s trip to Saudi Arabia local newspapers reported last week.

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awadh Asiri said last week that Suleiman postponed his visit to Saudi Arabia after consultations between the Saudi and Lebanese Authorities.

Presidency

Turning to the issue of presidential election Jumblatt the possibility of a vacuum in the presidency, stressing that the country was managing its affairs despite the vacuum in different constitutional institutions. A possible reference to the absence of a legitimate cabinet.

He stressed that the next president should be “consensual” and “should not belong to either the March 8 or 14” alliances.

Jumblatt rejected the extension of President Michel Suleiman’s mandate, which expires in May next year, and preferred bringing a person from outside the military to the top post.

“Wouldn’t it be better for him not to be a military man?” he wondered, when asked about the nomination of a personality from the army.

He also refused electing the new president by simple majority as was proposed recently by Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh , saying such a move would harm the Christians.

But Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that the extension of the mandate of President Michel Suleiman will undoubtedly take place in case no new cabinet is formed before the end of his tenure.

“The extension of Suleiman’s term will inevitably happen if no new government is formed,” Charbel said in comments published Friday in Al-Akhbar newspaper.

Charbel stressed that such an extension would be “bad, but presidential vacuum is worse.”

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