We are now part of the National Front

Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday the March 8 alliance has teamed up with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc and other political figures and groups to form what he dubbed the “National Front.”

“In my own opinion the March 8 coalition no longer exists now that MP Walid Jumblatt decided on a new political orientation which I accepted,” Berri told visiting MPs about the alliance named after a mass rally on March 8, 2005, to thank Syria for helping end the 1975-90 Civil War and supporting Lebanon’s resistance against the Israeli occupation.

“We are now part of the National Front, which includes several parliamentary blocs, political groups, parliamentary figures and figures from outside the Parliament and we all believe in Lebanon’s unity, Lebanon’s Arab identity, as well as the necessity to develop and liberate Lebanon.”

The National Front was also the title of the Civil War-era alliance between Palestinian organizations and the Lebanese left.

Berri had earlier toured the newly renovated Parliament premises and held talks with several lawmakers.

The speaker reiterated the need to speed up the formation of a new government to address pressing issues such as the demands voiced by the inmates of Roumieh prison, describing the delay as “unfortunate and painful.”

He said the formation process was governed by the erroneous premise that there were three camps battling for shares: the March 8 parties, the centrists represented by President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, and Jumblatt’s National Struggle Front, while in reality according to Berri all these factions belonged to the same bloc.

“The truth is that the Development and Liberation parliamentary bloc is no longer part of the March 8 coalition and has joined the National Front,” said Berri, in reference to his bloc.

Mikati was designated in January to head Lebanon’s new Cabinet by 68 MPs, the majority of whom belong to the March 8 alliance, following the collapse of the national unity Cabinet of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri in a dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Mikati also received the votes of seven MPs from Jumblatt’s bloc, as well as the votes of MPs from his city of Tripoli.

For his part, Hariri ruled out rumors that he plans to head the new government if Mikati fails in his mission, adding that his recent visits to Arab and international capitals were not aimed at garnering support for those ends.

“These visits are in Lebanon’s interest and have nothing to do with the formation of the government,” he told Future Movement engineers gathered at BIEL Wednesday evening.

“Our political program at this stage is not to return to the government, but to return to the state as well as ending the tutelage of illegal weapons, including Hezbollah’s [arsenal], over national political life,” he added.

More than two months after his nomination the prime-minister designate has yet to come up with a government formula that satisfies all groups involved. Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation in the government, including the key Interior Ministry portfolio, have been widely blamed for slowing down the process.

Aoun’s insistence on nominating the new interior minister faces opposition from Sleiman, who is adamant that his minister, Ziyad Baroud, should retain the portfolio.

But FPM sources contacted by The Daily Star sounded positive over the latest bid undertaken by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to accelerate the government-formation process.

The proposal would downgrade Aoun’s Reform and Change Parliamentary bloc’s share within the new Cabinet from 11 to 10 ministers while a compromise arrangement between Sleiman and Aoun would consist of nominating an independent figure to head the Interior Ministry.

A source close to the government-formation process confirmed that recent deliberations to form the new government have become less “tense.”

“Things need a bit more time to materialize but we are in the right direction and the atmosphere has improved,” the source told The Daily Star.

Aoun’s response to the latest proposal is expected to surface following a meeting with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, expected soon, a March 8 source told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, who paid a visit to Mikati Wednesday, called for an “early formation of a government” to help address the priorities of the Lebanese people.

“I commended Mr. Mikati for his determination to form a Cabinet that would meet the aspirations of all Lebanese,” Williams told reporters.

Williams said he told Mikati that the U.N. and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were closely monitoring the situation in countries throughout the Arab world. “There has long been a crisis of governance in the region, the effects of which we are witnessing now,” said Williams. “We all hope that leaders in these countries listen to the expressions of legitimate aspirations by their people.”