Lebanon News

Interior Ministry dispute still holding up Cabinet

BEIRUT: A struggle between President Michel Sleiman and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun over who should name a consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry portfolio is holding up the formation a new government, a source close to the Cabinet formation talks said Friday.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s attempts in the past three months to form a new government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s toppled Cabinet have hit snags mainly over the key Interior Ministry post which is being contested by Sleiman and Aoun.

“An agreement on a consensus candidate to replace caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud will definitely clear the way for the formation of the Cabinet,” the source told The Daily Star.

Sleiman, who had initially insisted on retaining Baroud as interior minister, has now agreed to replace Baroud, but again he is insisting on naming a successor, the source said.

Likewise, Aoun, who had initially demanded that the Interior Ministry post be allotted to a member of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, has now dropped this demand but he is also insisting on naming a consensus candidate, the source said.

Mikati’s consultations with the main parties involved in the government formation talks – Aoun’s FPM, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement led by Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt – have made progress in the size of the Cabinet and the distribution of shares. But the Interior Ministry posed the last remaining major hurdle as a result of the Sleiman-Aoun struggle for the post.

Another source close to the Cabinet formation talks said that efforts have been intensified to end the row over the Interior Ministry portfolio.

Sleiman met Friday with MP Ali Hassan Khalil, a political adviser to Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. The two men briefed Sleiman on the results of consultations and contacts related to the efforts to form a new government, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The source said Berri’s adviser and Nasrallah’s aide did not present any specific proposal to Sleiman to break the three-month-long stalemate. “Some ideas were exchanged during the meeting to speed up the Cabinet’s formation,” the source said.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television reported that the two advisers discussed with Sleiman the problem over the Interior Ministry.

Mikati met Sleiman Thursday night to brief him on the outcome of his consultations on the Cabinet’s formation. “Mikati did not present any Cabinet lineup to the president,” the source said. Caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, from Aoun’s bloc, told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that the Interior Ministry portfolio might be allotted to “a neutral person.” He said his bloc will get “a sovereign portfolio.” “The next hours are decisive with regard to clarifying the Cabinet lineup,” Abboud said.

Caretaker Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi said the Cabinet formation efforts have reached “a very delicate” stage. “It’s about time that the intensive efforts that began in the past few days, and are still continuing, be crowned with an agreement on the Cabinet’s formation. Or else, we will be condemned together as a political team that has nominated [former] Prime Minister Mikati to form the government,” Aridi told reporters during an inspection tour of road projects in Jbeil.

Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the head of the Higher Shiite Council, renewed his call for the formation of a national salvation government to save the country.

“We as Lebanese must protect Lebanon by loving each other and staying away from grudges … Officials must save the country by forming a national salvation government to sponsor the reform process,” Qabalan said after Friday prayers.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 30, 2011, on page 1.

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