MON 22 - 10 - 2018
Date: Jun 11, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Hariri, Aoun discuss draft structure of new Cabinet
Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has brought a first draft of the structure of Lebanon’s new government to President Michel Aoun, a presidential source said Sunday, signaling progress in the thorny issue of government formation. The source told The Daily Star that the draft was discussed with Aoun over dinner Saturday.

“They spoke about the structure of the new government, but they haven’t gone into the names and the distribution of the ministerial portfolio. That still needs to be studied,” the source close to Baabda Palace said.

“They discussed the formula concerning the extent of representation for each side,” the source added, noting that an agreement has been reached to form a 30-member-Cabinet. Political developments were on both Aoun’s and Hariri’s plates when they dined at one of the restaurants at Zaitunay Bay.

“Hariri still has to discuss [it] with the different sides to see if they agree on it, especially the Lebanese Forces and [Progressive Socialist Party head Walid] Joumblatt.”

A source close to Hariri said that while discussions over the formation process are ongoing, there is yet to be a major breakthrough.

Since being tasked with forming a new government last month, Hariri has faced some major obstacles.

These include the ongoing struggle over Christian representation between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, as well as the problem of Druze representation amid insistence by former MP Joumblatt that the PSP’s Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc obtain the three ministerial posts that are reserved for the Druze in the new Cabinet.

The first signs of a solution to the LF issue began to show Sunday evening after a meeting between LF’s caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi and Hariri’s adviser, caretaker Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury.

Having boosted its parliamentary representation from eight to 15 MPs in the May 6 parliamentary elections, the LF is demanding a commensurately greater share of key ministerial posts.

“The atmosphere is really good,” Riachi told local Al-Jadeed TV channel after the meeting, adding that positive steps may happen after this week’s Eid al-Fitr holiday.

Speaking to Al Modon online newspaper in an interview published Saturday, LF leader Samir Geagea reiterated that the LF was “committed to its right of true representation.”

“We also stick by our demand of the need for rotation in the ministerial portfolios,” he said. Geagea also expressed his willingness to continue working for the success of Aoun’s presidential term as well as with the FPM.

Joumblatt’s demand has been perceived as an attempt to prevent his Druze rival, head of Lebanese Democratic Party MP Talal Arslan, from being named as a minister in the new government. Arslan has insisted on being represented with one Druze minister.

The PSP head, along with his son MP Taymour Joumblatt and MP Wael Abu Faour, traveled Saturday to Saudi Arabia. The delegation’s visit, which comes after a series of hiccups in the relationship between Joumblatt and the kingdom, is expected to include a meeting with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

A PSP source denied that the delegation’s trip had anything to the do with government formation or the Druze issue, despite its timing raising eyebrows.

“It has nothing to do with the government. The visit is [part of our] constant contact with the kingdom and it just so happened that it came at this time,” the source said. The source also maintained that PSP’s stance over its share of seats remained the same.

“All that we are saying is that the results of the elections should govern ... the ministerial positions and ultimately we need to respect people’s desire,” the source said. “Our demands are clear.”

Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad added his voice to the various officials who have warned that government formation be completed quickly.

“No hurdle can delay the formation of the government, which should be formed [as soon as possible] and begin its work, because the country can’t bear any delays to [various] issues, beginning with the border and maritime demarcation, the confrontation of Israeli threats and development matters,” Raad said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency Sunday.

He acknowledged that different political sides have their own demands, but that parties should not be too stringent in their requests so that the members of the new government can apply themselves to the tasks at hand.

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