WED 16 - 1 - 2019
Jun 13, 2018
The Daily Star
Lebanon: Cabinet formation held up by Hariri’s Moscow visit, Eid
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri left Beirut for Moscow Tuesday night to attend the opening of the football World Cup along with other leaders, effectively putting attempts to form a new government on hold until next week.
Media reports said Hariri might meet in Moscow with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who will be among leaders invited to attend the opening of the games, set to kick off with a match between Saudi Arabia and Russia Thursday.
Hariri will then travel to Saudi Arabia to spend the Eid al-Fitr holiday later this week with his family and attend the Eid prayers in the holy city of Mecca before returning to Beirut early next week.
Ahead of his trip to Moscow, Hariri presented to President Michel Aoun Monday a preliminary proposal to form a 30-member government representing all political parties.
He outlined the Cabinet shares among the blocs with the largest representation, based on the results of last month’s parliamentary elections.
Hariri’s move was seen as part of accelerating the formation of a national unity government.
He did not chair the weekly meeting of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc Tuesday.
Since being reappointed on May 24 with a sweeping parliamentary majority to form a government for the third time, Hariri has sounded hopeful about forming a new Cabinet “very fast” to meet internal and external challenges and carry out reforms demanded by international donor conferences to shore up the ailing economy and fight rampant corruption in the public administration. The prime minister-designate has also called on rival factions competing for key ministerial posts to moderate their demands in order to facilitate the Cabinet formation.
Caretaker Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury, a key political adviser to Hariri, said all the political parties, emboldened by the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections, were jockeying for key ministerial portfolios, delaying the Cabinet formation.
“Each party is trying to say that it wants to be represented with a certain number of ministers. The Lebanese Forces has demanded to be represented with six ministers.
“The Free Patriotic Movement is demanding to be represented with six ministers, too. In my opinion, it is difficult to meet these demands,” Khoury said in remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper Tuesday.
“There is a general political consensus in the country on the formation of a government and preventing the flames in the region from spreading to Lebanon. This consensus has been expressed by several political forces, beginning with the president of the Republic, the Parliament speaker and the prime minister-designate, who has an interest in speeding up the government formation,” Khoury added.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc, said the elections did not result in a single party controlling a majority in the newly elected 128-member Parliament. “In the Cabinet issue, we did not delve into the subject of majority, minority and a veto power. ... We are working for a national unity government comprising the largest possible parliamentary and popular representation. This was the outcome of the elections which did not give majority to anyone,” Bassil told a news conference after chairing the bloc’s weekly meeting. “There is no one [in Parliament] controlling the majority in practical terms.”
Bassil called for the government to be formed quickly. “A government will be formed after parliamentary elections that showed the political sizes [of parties] and realities, and what is possible and is not possible is very clear, without the need for any party to enlarge or lessen its size to participate in the government,” he said.Referring to the FPM’s bloc, which made gains in the elections, increasing its 21 MPs to 29 including allies, Bassil said: “As a Strong Lebanon bloc, we are an independent bloc. We made it with our own strength and the people’s support. We are not subservient to anyone and no one is subservient to us.”
LF chief Samir Geagea said in remarks published Tuesday that his party wanted the same number of ministerial portfolios as given to the FPM in the new government.
“We insist on a ministerial share equal to that of the Free Patriotic Movement. We have a  understanding with the FPM during the phase of electing Gen. Michel Aoun as president that calls for [the LF] to obtain an equal ministerial share regardless of whether elections were held or not and regardless of the number of MPs for each side,” Geagea said in an interview with the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
“In the past, we had eight MPs and our share was four ministries. Now, we have 15 MPs. Therefore, we are saying that our ministerial share should be commensurate with the size of our parliamentary representation,” he said. “The argument is revolving around this point. Some refuse to acknowledge our right despite its logic. We uphold our demand and we will not abandon it.”
Geagea said the close relations between the LF and Saudi Arabia did not mean Saudi policies were infiltrating Lebanon.
“We represent ourselves in the Lebanese government and we are keen on the interests of Lebanon. Our share in the government will be for the Lebanese Forces, not for Saudi Arabia or any other country,” he said.
Geagea rejected the notion that competition between the LF and the FPM over Cabinet shares was part of the “struggle for the leadership of the Christian community and the presidency in the future” between him and Bassil.
“No, this is not the case at all. ... We are now concentrating on the formation of a new government to revitalize Lebanon in which our ministerial representation as the LF is equal to our parliamentary and popular representation. The rift [with the FPM] has nothing to do with the presidency or any other matter,” he said.
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