SUN 23 - 9 - 2018
Jul 3, 2018
The Daily Star
Aoun, Geagea agree road map to resolve Cabinet stalemate
Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Monday agreed to mend fences between the Free Patriotic Movement and the LF and to expedite the formation of a new Cabinet. The sit-down between Aoun and Geagea came amid a flurry of activity at Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s downtown residence after Hariri’s plans to travel for a vacation were put on hold.
A source close to Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that the meeting was positive where the two discussed various topics and recent tensions over the Cabinet formation.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, the LF leader struck an upbeat note and said that the two men agreed on a road map for the government formation.
“The meeting was good and we spoke about the need for a quick government formation and this is something that we both agree on,” the LF leader said. “[We] also spoke in length about our [LF] relationship with the FPM.”
The meeting comes after tensions grew between the LF and the FPM, which was founded by Aoun, over the former’s share in the new Cabinet.
Since Hariri was tasked in May to form a government, his mission has faced numerous hurdles, mainly from the LF and Progressive Socialist Party.
The LF has been demanding key ministerial posts, including that of the deputy premier position, in order to reflect the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections that allowed them to garner 15 seats in Parliament. However, the LF’s request hasn’t been widely welcomed by Aoun or FPM head Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
This issue was believed to have also caused friction between Hariri and Aoun, as Hariri reportedly supported the LF’s request for wide representation in Cabinet.
Aoun, on the other hand, had made it clear that it was his right to pick a deputy prime minister as well as other ministers through whom he monitors the Cabinet’s work.
“We tackled the Cabinet lineup as a whole and not only the FPM and LF issue, although it acquired the biggest part of the meeting. I presented Aoun with my opinion [with regards to] the formation,” Geagea said.
He added that once things calm down, “it will become clear that what we are suggesting isn’t far away from logic.”
Nevertheless, he refused to go into details on whether he discussed Cabinet shares with Aoun, saying that tackling this matter in the media will further complicate things.
“I didn’t veto anyone and at the same time, I don’t like anyone to veto us because this approach won’t lead anywhere,” he said, adding that he received assurances from Aoun that looks at both LF and FPM with equal importance.
The LF and FPM were former rivals before the two signed a memorandum of understanding in 2016 and that paved the way for Aoun to be elected as president later that year. Yet, since then the relationship between the two faced ups and downs over different approaches in governance.
The LF, nevertheless, attempted to distinguish its relationship between Aoun and Bassil.
“Of course, the LF differentiates in the relationship between the president and the FPM. The president is [no longer] the FPM’s head, rather he is the president of all Lebanese,” Geagea said. He added that if the LF supports the presidential reign.
“Contact with Bassil will definitely resume,” he added.
The Baabda source said that preparations for a meeting between Geagea and Bassil are in the making, which could take place this week.
In conjunction with the meeting that was being held in Baabda, caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi was at Hariri’s residence discussing the government formation.
Riachi is one of three LF ministers in the caretaker government.
“It seems that there is a positive development in the government formation process,” a source close to Hariri told The Daily Star. “The premier wants to follow up on the situation.”
Riachi’s visit was preceded by a Hariri-Bassil meeting Sunday.
“The atmosphere of the sit-down was positive, similar to the meeting between Geagea and Aoun,” Riachi told reporters after the meeting.
He added that a phone call between Geagea and Hariri was held to inform him about the Baabda gathering.
Later in the evening, Progressive Socialist Party MP Wael Abu Faour also discussed the government formation with Hariri, reiterating that Druze representation in the new Cabinet should reflect the results of the parliamentary elections.
“The PSP is still on its position toward the results of the parliamentary elections. The Druze representation, meaning the three Druze ministers, should be named by the PSP,” he said. “The party insists on that.”
PSP head Walid Joumblatt has insisted his bloc be allocated all three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet – the number of ministers proposed by Hariri.
Joumblatt’s demand appears to be aimed at preventing his Druze rival, Talal Arslan, from being named minister.
Political sources previously told The Daily Star that Hariri took the lead in resolving the issue of Druze representation, proposing that the PSP receive two Druze ministers and the third go to an independent, which would annul Arslan’s chances of becoming a minister.
Abu Faour said that the PSP didn’t mind if Arslan’s bloc is represented in the Cabinet by a Maronite minister given that three of his four-bloc members are Maronites.
Abu Faour also lauded Hariri’s efforts to overcome the barriers in the Cabinet formation and hoped that the various meetings that have been held would lead to a positive outcome.
He told reporters that a meeting between Hariri and Joumblatt could be held at any time and that the two were in constant contact.
Abu Faour also said that Aoun and Joumblatt could hold a sit-down after Abu Faour last week described PSP’s relationship with the president as “cold.”
“There is no boycott with Aoun, at the end he is the president,” Abu Faour said. “We are ready for meetings to be held at any minute.”
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