WED 19 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jun 1, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Rivals jockey in bid to grab greater share of Cabinet posts
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A week after Saad Hariri was designated with a sweeping parliamentary majority to form a new government, political rivals Wednesday began horse-trading and jockeying in a bid to grab a bigger share of Cabinet posts, a development that could hamper Hariri’s attempts to form the government rapidly.

Although the rival factions’ wrangling over the distribution of key ministerial posts has been a hallmark in the history of Cabinet formation, it runs contrary to the string of promises made by the leaders of major parliamentary blocs to help facilitate and accelerate the formation of a national unity government representing all the parties.

The Cabinet formation efforts are on hold until Hariri returns from a visit to Saudi Arabia, after which real negotiations will begin with the premier-designate over each party’s representation in the new government.

Meanwhile, officials filled the vacuum either by political posturing or by raising the ceiling of their demands for key ministerial posts.

President Michel Aoun said the quick formation of a new government would help bolster political stability. “Lebanon is poised for an advanced political stage after the parliamentary elections and the formation of a government that will boost political stability in the country,” Aoun said during a meeting with a delegation of U.S. members of Congress at Baabda Palace.

Aoun expressed hope that the premier-designate would be able to include all national parties in the new government so that they can participate in “confronting expected challenges at various levels,” according to a statement released by the president’s media office.

Before flying to Saudi Arabia Tuesday night, Hariri said Lebanon was facing internal and external challenges and needed the government to be formed quickly to carry out reforms and fight corruption.

Capitalizing on the strong showing made by Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal Movement, in the parliamentary elections earlier this month, Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem called for his party to be represented in the new government in a more significant way than before.

“We contested interesting and complicated parliamentary elections that included a lot of polarization. ... But Hezbollah was able to achieve, along with its allies, an important presence in Parliament that would reflect on the structure of the state and Lebanon’s future,” Qassem told a Hezbollah memorial ceremony in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

“Hezbollah will be represented in the government in a more effective way than before. This is what the people have voted for and this is required by the challenges to build the state and protect the nation. ... We call for everyone to be represented [in the government] in order to help reflect the election results,” he added.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement won all but one of the 27 parliamentary seats allotted to the Shiite sect in the May 6 legislative elections.

The two main Shiite parties can, along with their allies, muster a bloc of 45 MPs in the newly elected 128-member legislature. Sources close to Hezbollah, which is currently represented with two ministers in Hariri’s caretaker Cabinet, said they want to be represented with three ministers.

Although he declared last week that his party was not seeking one of the four “sovereign” ministerial portfolios (Defense, Interior, Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries), Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said his party was hoping to get a ministry that provides public services.

Among other important ministries being vied for by rival parties are those dealing with public services such as the Public Works, Telecommunications, Energy and Water, and Education ministries.

Former MP Walid Joumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, seemed adamant that the PSP’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc obtain three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze in a 30-member Cabinet.

Joumblatt’s demand was seen as an attempt to prevent his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, from being named minister in the new government.

“We are seeking a legitimate demand as a result of the elections, nothing more, nothing less,” Joumblatt said in remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper Wednesday. This position was reiterated by newly elected MP Hadi Abul Hasan from the nine-member Democratic Gathering bloc headed by Joumblatt’s son, MP Teymour Joumblatt.

“Since the PSP and the Democratic Gathering have achieved a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections, we insist that the Gathering be represented with three ministries. This is our right and we will not give it up,” Abul Hasan said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV. Arlsan, who heads a four-member bloc in the Aley-Chouf district rivaling Joumblatt’s bloc, has insisted on being represented in the government with one Druze minister.

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