FRI 15 - 2 - 2019
Date: Jul 6, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Cabinet formation on hold as rows persist
Timour Azhari| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The struggle over Cabinet representation between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces showed no sign of abating Thursday after FPM head Gebran Bassil and the LF exchanged verbal jabs.

In addition to this ongoing roadblock, the heads of three of Lebanon’s major political blocs – Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri of the Future Movement, Bassil and Speaker Nabih Berri who heads the Amal Movement – are currently out of the country on vacation.

The renewed infighting between Lebanon’s two major Christian parties came despite FPM founder President Michel Aoun and LF chief Samir Geagea agreeing at a meeting earlier this week to defuse tensions. Emboldened by its electoral performance, the LF has been seeking to widen its Cabinet representation.

While the LF nearly doubled the size of its bloc from eight to 15 MPs, the FPM’s bloc also increased in size to 29 with its allies.

In a pre-recorded interview with MTV that broadcast Wednesday evening, Bassil said the LF had accused the FPM of corruption and had attacked them over the electricity file, while the FPM “sought not to bring the dispute with the [LF] to the public.”

“We didn’t attack them, in the interest of [reaching an] understanding, and we met several times, but in the past period they ... only attack FPM ministers,” Bassil said.

“You can’t wrongly tie your ‘brother’ to corruption and then say ‘we are working for partnership.’”

Bassil also said that the LF’s current representation in Parliament dictated control of three ministries – while the FPM would not veto their taking four.

If, however, they demanded five, Bassil said: “It becomes the right of our bloc to have 10 because we are [double their size].” But, more than mathematical calculations, “political understanding is the most important, and on that basis, we give what we feel is right.”

Bassil also noted that the FPM has decided it would not prevent its MPs from also taking ministerial posts, a hot-button issue during the election period.

The LF and FPM reached a landmark agreement in 2016, known as the Maarab Understanding, in which the LF had agreed to support Aoun in his bid for the presidency while receiving parity in government from the FPM in return. This helped end a two and a half year presidential vacancy.

Local channel MTV Thursday aired copies of the agreement documents for the first time, disclosing what had previously been left up to the verbalization of opposing politicians. According to MTV, the Maarab agreement mandated equal ministerial representation between the LF and the FPM throughout all governments formed under Aoun – a point which LF MP George Adwan reiterated.

He told MTV the LF was solely asking for the Maarab Understanding to be respected.According to the documents gained by MTV, Maarab also mandated parity in appointments to high-level positions set aside for Christians in the state, including the heads of judicial and security bodies. The LF has long criticized Aoun for violating this part of the agreement when appointments were made after his election.

In the realm of FPM-LF relations, much weight had been put on a tension-ending meeting between Geagea and Bassil, however, both sides downplayed the importance of such a sit-down. Adwan said it was “not important,” because the LF was not based on a single “personality.”

Bassil had said Wednesday evening that “a meet with Geagea is not the goal, but nothing prevents it happening as a culmination or a push for a political course and an irreversible agreement” to deal with recent friction between the parties.

In another sign of faltering Cabinet formation efforts, Berri’s key aide caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil questioned the size of the representation the Amal Movement and Hezbollah were being given. As in the current Cabinet, they are set to secure three each of the six ministries set aside for the Shiite sect in a 30-member Cabinet.

“We, as Amal and Hezbollah, have offered the maximum a political party can offer on the government formation issue – and we have the right to much more than what we have accepted,” Khalil said in a tweet from his account. “The mentality in which the government formation process is being conducted does not inspire confidence, nor build a nation or institutions,” he said.

“We have done what is asked of us. Do not make us take another look at the rules you have put forward,” Khalil warned.

While the issue of FPM-LF representation and the Progressive Socialist Party’s demand of a monopoly on Druze representation in the next government have been billed as the biggest issues, there is also the issue of Sunni representation. Some of the 10 Sunni MPs who are outside of Hariri’s Future Bloc have, since the May parliamentary elections, been calling for representation in the new government.

While they have not formed a political bloc, six of those MPs met Thursday in Tripoli under the leadership of MP Faissal Karami. They included MPs Abdel-Rahim Mrad, Jihad al-Samad, Hezbollah MP Walid Sukkarieh, Baath Party MP Qassem Hashem, Adnan Traboulsi and Karami.

“The 10 [Sunni] MPs [not aligned with Hariri], regardless of whether they are divided or united, should be represented – and we are asking to be represented by two ministries,” Karami said at a news conference held after the meeting.

When asked recently about the Sunni opposition MPs’ calls for representation, Hariri simply said: “What opposition?”

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