Believe it or Not But Lebanon is Expected to Have New Cabinet in Next 48 Hours

Published October 29th, 2018 - 12:45 GMT
Saad Hariri speaking during a press conference in Beirut. (AFP/File)
Saad Hariri speaking during a press conference in Beirut. (AFP/File)

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is set to meet with President Michel Aoun in the coming 48 hours to present him with the Cabinet lineup, indicating an imminent resolution to the monthslong government deadlock, official sources said Sunday.

“Prime Minister Hariri is waiting for a final answer from the Lebanese Forces to his latest Cabinet offer before he meets with President Aoun either Monday or Tuesday to present him with the first Cabinet lineup that includes the distribution of portfolios among the main blocs, along with the names of ministers,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

“The Cabinet formation process is on the right track. All signs indicate that the formation of a national unity government will be announced this week after major hurdles have been eliminated,” the source said.

He ruled out the possibility of last-minute snags similar to those over the LF demand for the Justice Ministry that had thwarted the announcement of a Cabinet lineup nearly two weeks ago.

The LF demand was rejected by Aoun, who insisted on retaining the Justice Ministry for one of his loyalists as part of his share after ceding the position of the deputy prime minister to the LF.

According to the source, Hariri’s Cabinet offer presented to the LF still stood unchanged despite the LF’s persistent demand for a weighty ministerial post as a substitute for the Justice Ministry.

During one of his meetings with caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi last week, Hariri was reported to have offered the Lebanese Forces four posts: The deputy prime minister’s position and the Social Affairs, Culture and Labor ministries.

Riachi, one of three LF ministers in the outgoing Cabinet, told The Daily Star Sunday that the LF would convey its answer to Hariri’s offer Monday.The LF’s parliamentary Strong Republic bloc will hold an extraordinary meeting in Maarab at noon Monday to be chaired by LF leader Samir Geagea to discuss “latest developments in the Cabinet formation and take the appropriate stances on it,” a statement from Geagea’s media office said Sunday night.

LF’s deputy leader MP George Adwan said the party’s executive committee, headed by Geagea, would hold a “crucial meeting” either late Sunday night or Monday morning to decide on whether or not to participate in the new government.

Adwan, in an interview with MTV, raised the possibility of the LF staying out of the new government. “There is a high possibility that the Lebanese Forces will not participate in the government,” he said.

Assuring that a government would be formed in the next few days, Adwan said a “Plan B” would need to be devised if the LF did not participate in the government.

Commenting on Adwan’s hint at the possibility of the LF staying out of the government, a source familiar with the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star: “Adwan’s remarks are meant to enhance the Lebanese Forces’ negotiating position. No one wants to stay out of the government.”

While Hariri insists on the LF participation in the new government, Adwan said caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, was seeking either to “prevent the Lebanese Forces from being represented in the government with its real weight, or prevent its participation.”

Emboldened by the results of the May parliamentary elections in which it nearly doubled the number of its MPs from eight to 15, the LF has been demanding a significant Cabinet share.

The LF and the FPM have been embroiled in a fierce struggle for five months over Christian representation in the government.

Hariri, who was on a one-day a private visit to Jordan Sunday, had stuck to his optimism that the Cabinet would be formed in the coming days, even though “one small obstacle” remained. This was a reference to the nature of the ministerial posts to be allocated to the LF.

“The government, God willing, will be formed in the coming days,” Hariri told reporters after meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh residence Saturday to brief him on the outcome of his consultations with various parties to break the Cabinet stalemate, now in its sixth month. Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a key political aide to Berri, and caretaker Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury, a political adviser to Hariri, attended the meeting.

Hariri stressed that there would be no losers or winners in the formation of the new government.

“With this [Cabinet] formation, no one stands to lose. Everyone has sacrificed for the sake of the country. On this basis, the aim is to form a national unity government or a national entente government in which all the parties participate in order to meet challenges facing Lebanon,” he said.

He added that Lebanon is facing “regional challenges, internal and economic challenges that require everyone to be in the government.”

“The notion that there is one political side who lost and another side who won, this is not the principle,” Hariri said, adding: “The principle is that all the political parties be in this government so that we can revitalize the country which really needs the largest political presence in the government, and also to confront difficulties, be they economic or regional.”

Asked if there were still hurdles to the Cabinet formation, the prime minister-designate said: “There is one small obstacle that will be resolved. I don’t want to talk about it.”

MTV news channel reported that Hariri asked Berri to give up the Agriculture Ministry so that it can be allocated to the LF.

A political source said Berri insisted on retaining the Agriculture Ministry, currently held by caretaker Minister Ghazi Zeaiter, a member of the speaker’s parliamentary bloc.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai weighed in on the Cabinet standoff, by saying that all the main political parties should be represented in a national unity Cabinet.

He appeared to oppose the LF’s exclusion from the next government.

“If they are talking about a national unity government, this means that it includes all the political parties that will be represented in it. Or else, we cannot call it a national unity government,” the Maronite patriarch told reporters at Beirut airport upon his return from Rome after a pastoral visit to Canada.

“National unity should not be confined to parliamentary blocs that won in the elections.”

This article has been adapted from its original source.

Copyright © 2019, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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