The formation of a new government is being stymied by an ongoing struggle between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces over Christian representation, political sources said Sunday, ruling out an imminent breakthrough in the Cabinet standoff, now in its second month.
“There has been no progress in the Cabinet formation efforts. Things are still complicated due to the FPM-LF rift over Christian representation in the government,” a political source said.
In a move reflecting his frustration with the delay in the government formation, Speaker Nabih Berri is set Monday to chair a meeting of Parliament’s Secretariat and a meeting of his parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc.
The two meetings come ahead of a general Parliament session Berri has called for Tuesday to elect heads and members of parliamentary committees. Berri had been postponing holding a session to elect the committees pending the formation of a new Cabinet, to avoid having MPs elected to the bodies and later being appointed as ministers.
Many parties have meanwhile decided that their MPs would not also be ministers.
A weekend meeting that had been widely expected between Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, in anticipation of presenting President Michel Aoun with the first draft government lineup, did not take place.
This signaled that Hariri’s Cabinet has not yet been finalized, as it needs the support of Bassil, who is the leader of the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc, which comprises 29 lawmakers along with its allies.
“Obstacles facing the government formation are still the same, centering mainly on the dispute between the LF and the FPM over Christian representation,” another political source familiar with the Cabinet formation process said.
The OTV channel, affiliated with the FPM, also reflected a gloomy outlook of the Cabinet impasse. “The Cabinet hurdles have not been overcome. A breakthrough here is met with a hard line there,” its prime news bulletin reported Sunday night.
Bassil reiterated the FPM’s position that each party should be represented in the government according to its parliamentary size.
“The government will be formed with known criteria that will not change and will respect the will of the people that they expressed in the [May 6] elections, for which we have waited nine years. There will be a government to consecrate confidence,” Bassil said at a ceremony marking Lebanese Arak Day organized by the Agriculture Ministry in the eastern city of Zahle Saturday.
Hariri’s planned meeting with Bassil is deemed crucial because he is currently at the center of the heated row with the LF over Christian representation in the new government. The meeting would also wrap up Hariri’s consultations with leaders of major blocs on the government formation before presenting a Cabinet lineup to Aoun.
LF ministers and lawmakers have accused Bassil of obstructing the government’s formation by seeking to prevent the LF from obtaining a Cabinet share commensurate with its parliamentary size.
The LF’s demand for key ministerial portfolios, including the position of the deputy prime minister, has been rejected by Aoun and Bassil.
Attention is now focused on resolving the problem of Christian representation after a political source said last week that Aoun and Hariri have agreed to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt’s demand to name the three ministers reserved for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet, overcoming a major obstacle.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai criticized political rivals’ jockeying for Cabinet shares, blaming them for the delay in the formation of a new government. “Everyone inside [Lebanon] and outside is waiting for the decision of the government formation because each day’s delay entails big repercussions and huge losses on all sectors of the economy, the work of institutions and administrations and the people’s trust in [government] officials,” Rai said in a Mass marking St. Charbel’s day.
“Clinging to [Cabinet] shares and confining them to [certain] blocs while excluding other parties and competent people from the civil, nonpartisan and nonpolitical society does not justify the delay [in government formation] at the expense of the public good,” Rai said.
“Rather, this contradicts the general constitutional criteria and the spirit and text of the Lebanese Constitution, while disregarding the international community’s interest [in Lebanon] and the financial aid approved at the CEDRE conference in Paris on April 6 for the purpose of economic growth and repairing the infrastructure, particularly water and electricity.”
Rai held a closed meeting with LF leader Samir Geagea in the northern town of Bqaa Kafra Saturday, discussing with him the LF-FPM differences over Christian representation in the government.
This article has been adapted from its original source.