Tammam Salam Interview: I Am Your Savior, Maybe

Lebanon's newly named Prime Minister Tammam Salam is equiped before an interview following his official appointment, on 6 April 2013 at his home in the Lebanese capital Beirut. (Photo: AFP - Anwar Amro)

By: Nicolas Nassif

Published Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Today, 9 April 2013, Lebanon’s designated Prime Minister Tammam Salam will begin testing the consensus of parliamentary blocs and independents – from March 8, March 14, and the centrists – concerning their decision to ask him to form his first government.

It will be the sixth government formed to oversee elections since Lebanon’s independence in 1943, one of which was formed in 1953 by Salam’s father Saeb with eight ministers. Of the previous five governments, the one formed in 1964 lasted for two months; 1960 and 2005 lasted for three months; 1951 and 1953 for four.

Lebanon’s previous experience with similar governments, whose main mission was to oversee parliamentary elections, had been positive. Salam hopes that his government will be a reflection of the consensus that brought him to his post.

The designated prime minister, nevertheless, is putting his bets on “positive signals that the formation will be similar to the appointment. I got 124 votes at the height of the dispute and national discord. Former prime minister [Fouad] Siniora got 126 votes once, but this was a result of the Doha agreement, with its regional and international dimensions.”

He continued, “Today, we are at the bottom of an abyss. The 124 votes who chose me pulled the situation from the bottom to the top.”

Nicolas Nassif: Like the parliamentary blocs and independent MPs, the designated prime minister has his own specifications for the ministers, but he is not in a hurry to disclose them.

Tammam Salam: The details of forming the government are linked to the parliamentary consultations I will be conducting before deciding on appointments. However, I believe the consensus on the appointment had a goal, which is to move past a phase whose peak will be the parliamentary elections.

When I was asked why I gave up my Beirut MP seat, which is dear to my heart and allows me to communicate with my community and family, I told them I put two issues in the scale. Between supervising the parliamentary elections of 128 seats to save my country from an evitable predicament and holding on to one seat...I chose the former.

Based on this, if we really wanted to hold elections, then the best solution would be an electoral government where none of its members, whether the prime minister or the ministers, are candidates. But if we delve too much in the arguments and with politicians who want a seat, without reaching anywhere, we would be wasting time and missing the deadlines, even the elections themselves and thus the available chance.

If I feel there is a deliberate obstruction in the formation, I will not remain at the head of government. I am not asking for a position; I am only seeking to save the country from a predicament. When they tell me they do not want the elections anymore, I will turn down the commission to calm those who are anxious that I do not care for power.

But I do not carry the burden of consensus alone. There are the sides that made it possible. They are my partners in carrying the burden...to protect democracy and the exchange of power.

I am not a magician or a miracle worker. I was only chosen to overcome the possibility of the country’s collapse and entering into the void. I invite them all to combine the consensus on appointment with a consensus on formation [of the government].

NN: Does your optimism hide regional and international guarantees in the formation process and holding the elections?

TS: Where did this come from? I do not have any guarantees from anyone whatsoever. Of course, I do see an environment that we could all transform into a real assurance of salvation. This means we have to benefit from this environment: when the Saudi king and crown prince contact a designated prime minister less than two days after the decision, and when the Iranian ambassadors arrive for the same reason, in addition to a delegate from the UN, and France issuing a statement in support of the designated prime minister...

NN: Do you expect obstacles in the formation process, such as the ministerial statement and several contradictory positions regarding Hezbollah’s weapons and the Syrian situation, for example?

TS: There are no political obstacles that could face an elections government. The obstacles will be related to the elections themselves. There is a mechanism for holding them, which needs care, follow up, and ensuring its implementation. There are also other dossiers that we await, such as the repercussions of what is happening in Syria, the problem of the Syrian refugees and acquiring international aid to allow us to contain it, the budget, the ranks and salaries scale, and maintaining the security situation and stability.

These are political obligations for the government, which cannot be ignored or neglected. But it will be an elections government, from beginning to end. What I want is a government not subject to the mood of political forces, but free of such shackles. If they feel they don’t want it to stay, it will leave.

NN: Do you consider yourself a new centrist who can relieve the tensions and divisions between March 8 and March 14?

TS: This is another mission. My mission is a government to hold elections, which is not biased to any side or party, so as not to lose its transparency. I am a free moderate. I prefer to speak about the new opportunity for the country’s advancement, more than new moderation.

NN: Do you adopt Mikati’s proportional electoral law proposal?

TS: The issue needs the consensus of political forces. I will implement what they agree on and I believe they will reach a consensus soon, which is a mixed system, but after they agree on district division and the number of proportional seats.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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