SUN 21 - 4 - 2019
Date: Sep 4, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Forward progress in Cabinet impasse but more work ahead
Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Progress was made in the Cabinet deadlock Monday although political sources said that more work was needed on the first, detailed formula presented by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to President Michel Aoun.

After meeting with Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil earlier in the day, the premier-designate headed to the presidential palace to propose a new Cabinet formula to Aoun after a long-awaited meeting between the two.

A statement released by the president’s office shortly after the Aoun-Hariri meeting confirmed that Aoun had received “an initial version” of the new formula, while also casting doubts of his convincing. The statement said that the president “had some observations” based on the “principles and criteria” used to form the government, “which is required to serve the interest of Lebanon.”

In what seemed to be an attempt to play down any rifts, the statement said Aoun would remain in consultation with the prime minister-designate in “preparation for an agreement” on a formula for the future government.

But a source close to the Cabinet formation process said that there were positives from Monday’s meeting. “At least there is a formula now so a portfolio can be shifted here or there and work can be carried out based on this formula,” the source told The Daily Star.

Political sources said that Hariri’s latest proposal was the first to include the details of which political parties would head what ministries.

“The president didn’t refuse the formula, but he said he has some minor observations and mainly four points,” the source said. The first point being that Hariri himself said the formula was an initial one and not final. The second is that the president, according to the source, “had some observations - meaning more than one thing.” The third, as written in the statement, is that Aoun disagreed with the lack of set criteria used in distributing the portfolios. “The last point is that Hariri said he hadn’t discussed the formula with anyone other than the president, so Aoun is going along with him and saying more consultations will take place,” the source said.

Aoun has long called for a set criteria to be used across the board in determining how many ministers each party gets. But Hariri said the new formula is “very different” than the previous proposals.

After meeting with Aoun, Hariri told reporters that the formula was “for a national entente government in which no one wins over the other, but each team sacrifices in some way.”

“No one has this formula other than the president and myself,” he added.

Hariri said the new proposal was not discussed with anyone, rather that he listened to the ideas and opinions of all parties and based this on those talks.

“We did not discuss the names today [of who would head the ministerial portfolios],” Hariri said.

Asked what he would do if this proposal was rejected by Aoun, Hariri said he is “always optimistic” when he visits the president. However, Hariri said that names of who would be named ministers still needed to be determined with the political parties and the president.

But according to the source, a main point of contention was the distribution of service-related portfolios and the ministers of state. “The president believes there was no basis for how these were distributed among the parties.”

The premier-designate arrived at the presidential palace shortly after he met with Bassil.

Talks between Hariri and Bassil had widely been considered key to any breakthrough in the government formation process, which has entered its fourth month of deadlock, before the premier-designate presents a new draft lineup to Aoun.

Hariri and the foreign minister had met over lunch to discuss the main obstacles impeding the formation of a new Cabinet, a statement from Hariri’s office said.

Their meeting lasted about an hour and a half, and Bassil left without speaking to reporters.

Bassil and Hariri were expected to meet last Friday to discuss a solution to the problem of Christian representation – one of the main stumbling blocks to the formation of a new government – including a proposal of four ministerial posts for the Lebanese Forces. The LF have demanded four service-related ministries in the event that they do not secure the post of deputy prime minister or one of four so-called sovereign portfolios. The service-related posts demanded by the LF include the Public Works, Education, Justice and Social Affairs ministries.

Another major obstacle is that of the Druze representation. Signaling the continued disagreement between Aoun and Hariri over who will represent the sect, the source said: “This issue is still one of the disagreements based on the new formula.”

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