BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is conferring with all the parties behind the scenes in a bid to overcome two major hurdles over the representation of the Druze and the Lebanese Forces that are still blocking the formation of a new government, political sources said Sunday.
“Since his meeting with President Michel Aoun [last Friday], Prime Minister Hariri has been holding behind-the-scenes consultations either by telephone or by meetings with various parties to resolve the problems over the Druze and Lebanese Forces representation in the new government,” a political source told The Daily Star.
Lebanese Forces’ caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi met with Hariri Sunday night for the second time in two days at the premier-designate’s Downtown Beirut residence, in the latest of their talks to resolve the problem of the LF representation in the new government.
Having increased its parliamentary representation from eight to 15 MPs in the May 6 elections, the LF is seeking five ministerial posts as well as the position of the deputy premier, the source said.
But the source said this is being opposed by the Free Patriotic Movement, which also made gains in the elections, increasing its 21 MPs to 29, including allies.
Similarly, the Cabinet formation standoff was discussed during a meeting Saturday between Speaker Nabih Berri, MP Wael Abu Faour and former MP Ghazi Aridi from the Progressive Socialist Party.
Abu Faour was reported to have relayed to Berri, a close ally of PSP leader Walid Joumblatt, the PSP’s insistence on obtaining the three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze in a 30-member Cabinet.
Joumblatt’s insistence on the three Druze ministerial posts was apparently aimed at preventing his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, from being named as a minister. Arslan has insisted on being represented with one Druze minister. Berri did not appear optimistic about prospects for a swift government formation, saying there were “internal” obstacles in the way.“The hope was that issue would conclude [last Friday], but it seems that there is something that’s not ready yet,” Berri told LBCI channel Saturday at his Ain al-Tineh residence, saying that the obstacles blocking the formation of a new government were “internal.”
In reply to a question, Berri said the solution to the Cabinet formation standoff lay with Aoun and Hariri.
Hariri did not present Aoun with any draft Cabinet lineup when they met Friday at Baabda Palace but the two leaders “agreed on a common concept over the distribution of ministerial portfolios among major blocs,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.
Despite the remaining hurdles over the LF and Druze representation, Hariri, who was reappointed on May 24 with a sweeping parliamentary majority to form a new government for the third time, struck an upbeat note, saying the Cabinet formation was edging closer.
Ministerial sources familiar with the Cabinet formation process said efforts were underway to distribute the shares of a 30-member Cabinet among major blocs as follows: three ministers for the president; seven ministers for the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc; five ministers, in addition to the prime minister, for Hariri’s Future Movement; four ministers for the LF, excluding the position of the deputy premier; two Druze ministers for Joumblatt, in addition to a third “consensual and nonpartisan” minister; six ministers for the Amal Movement and Hezbollah; and one minister for the Marada Movement.
To be excluded from the new government are Sunni lawmakers not affiliated with the Future Movement, as well as the blocs of former Premier Najib Mikati, the Kataeb Party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Baath Party, the sources said.
Concerning the so-called four “sovereign” ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Finance, the sources said there will be no change in their distribution from the caretaker Cabinet. The Defense Ministry will be allotted to a minister loyal to the president; the FPM will retain the Foreign Ministry; the Interior Ministry will be reserved for the Future Movement; and the Amal Movement will retain the Finance Ministry.
With regard to ministries dealing with public services, the Health Ministry might be allocated to Hezbollah; the Energy and Water Ministry will go to the FPM; the Telecommunications Ministry to the Future Movement; the Justice Ministry will be assigned to a minister loyal to the president; the Education Ministry will either go to Joumblatt’s bloc or the LF; and the Public Works Ministry will either go to the LF or Joumblatt, the sources said.
The other ministries, such as the Economy, Labor, Social Affairs, Agriculture, Industry, Tourism and Information ministries, will be shared among the six major parties, the sources added.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s deputy leader called for a national unity government that would not exclude any major political party.
“We are calling for a national unity government because this will allow everyone to be represented,” Sheikh Naim Qassem said.
He said the swift formation of a new government was in everyone’s interest and that his group opposed excluding anyone from the new government.
“We call for everyone to be represented according to their power base, without eliminating anyone because a national government requires everyone to be in it,” Qassem said. But Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai urged the formation of a technocrat government that would be able to efficiently tackle the country’s major problems.
“The people do not want [a government] composed of ordinary persons to distribute shares, share interests and satisfy leaders,” Rai said in a sermon at his seat in Bkirki.
“The people and friendly countries supporting Lebanon at Rome, Paris and Brussels conferences want a government comprising ministers of technocratic competence, knowledge, impartiality, ethics and dedication.”