WED 19 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jun 8, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Hariri plies backstage diplomacy to hasten Cabinet
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is using backstage diplomacy in his attempts to form an all-embracing national unity government very soon, political sources said Thursday.

“Prime Minister Hariri is meeting with various leaders and politicians behind the scenes to discuss how to overcome hurdles over the distribution of key ministerial posts that could delay the formation of a new government,” a source close to Hariri told The Daily Star.

“Hariri is taking steady strides in his attempts to form a national consensus government representing all the parties shortly after Eid al-Fitr,” the source said, adding that Hariri had already decided to form a 30-member government, thus ruling out the possibility of a 32-member Cabinet as demanded by President Michel Aoun to represent minorities such as the Alawites and Assyriacs.

Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, falls either on June 15 or 16, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

Two members of Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc sounded optimistic that obstacles hindering the Cabinet formation would be eliminated soon to clear the way for the government’s birth after Eid al-Fitr.

“The hurdles and difficulties standing in the way of the government formation will be overcome soon because all the parties are aware that the economic situation is not good and the government formation should be accelerated,” Future MP Assem Araji told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

“The proposed government will be a national unity government comprising all the political parties.”

Noting that it was normal for rival factions to raise the ceiling of their demands ahead the Cabinet formation negotiations, Araji said: “What is delaying the government formation are the [Cabinet] shares demanded by the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Druze.”

Future MP Nazih Najem echoed a similar upbeat note on the Cabinet formation soon.

“I have heard from Prime Minister Hariri that all hurdles will be eliminated. It’s not easy to form a government made up of a group of the country’s parties and movements that will include competent people to ensure genuine representation,” Najem told Al-Sharq radio station.

He ruled out a problem in the government’s policy statement as had happened in the past that delayed the formation for weeks, especially concerning Hezbollah’s arms and its resistance against Israel. “Prime Minister Hariri was clear with regard to the policy statement when he said that the policy statement of the outgoing government will be adopted,” Najem said.Rather than adopt the controversial tripartite equation: “The Army, the people and the resistance,” adopted by previous governments and upheld by Hezbollah and its allies, but staunchly opposed by the Future Movement and the LF and their allies, Hariri’s caretaker Cabinet had approved a policy statement that stressed the “right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repulse [Israel’s] aggressions and recover occupied territories.”

Days after he was reappointed on May 24 with a sweeping parliamentary majority to form a new government for the third time, Hariri has sounded hopeful about forming a new Cabinet “very fast” to meet internal and external challenges.

However, Hariri’s optimism comes against the backdrop of traditional jockeying by rival factions to capture key ministerial portfolios, including the Defense, Finance, Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries. Other important ministries being contested by political rivals are those dealing with public services such as the Public Works, Telecommunications, Energy and Water and Education Ministries.

Among major obstacles facing Hariri in his attempts to form the new government are the ongoing struggle over Christian representation between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, and the problem of Druze representation amid insistence by former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, that the PSP’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc obtain the three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze in a 30-member Cabinet, a political source told The Daily Star.

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

Having boosted its parliamentary representation from eight to 15 MPs in the May 6 elections, the Lebanese Forces is demanding key ministerial posts commensurate with this representation.

“The Lebanese Forces party wants the same size [of Cabinet share] and the same number of ministerial portfolios given to the Free Patriotic Movement,” the LF’s newly-elected MP Fadi Saad in the northern town of Batroun said in a statement. “We also demanded a sovereign ministry and this is our right. We want to obtain a Cabinet representation that is commensurate with our parliamentary representation.”

The FPM also emerged a big winner from the elections, increasing its 21 MPs to 29, including allies.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and caretaker deputy premier and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, one of three LF ministers in the caretaker Cabinet, Thursday engaged in a Twitter verbal war, reflecting the long-simmering tensions between the two main Christian parties.

“The health policy in Lebanon is governed by one factor, that is nepotism. If you don’t have connections and you are poor, you will die at the hospital’s doors. But if you are rich, you will pay the price of your health. And if you have nepotism, you will get medical treatment,” Bassil posted on his Twitter account.

Bassil’s remarks drew a quick response from Hasbani who struck back with a tweet of his own, saying: “Where is the nepotism my colleague, Minister Gebran Bassil, when 338,638 cases have been admitted to hospitals at the expense of the Health Ministry? Around 25,000 patients were given medicine for cancer and incurable diseases during my term at the Health Ministry. Vaccinations and preliminary health care were provided on all Lebanese territories.”

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