--Hizbullah-led Opposition Rejects It, Crisis Looms
--Suleiman Faces Question: To Sign or Not to Sign the Decree
--What If President Rejects the List?
--Names and Portfolios
--Aoun Calls for FPM in Cabinet to Resign
Lebanon appeared Tuesday to be facing a serious political crisis after the Hizbullah-led opposition bloc rejected Monday a new government proposed by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri. The leader of the majority in parliament was designated 70 days ago to form a national unity government, but opposition demands stood in his way. Hariri presented President Michel Suleiman Monday with a "balanced" government proposal, according to the Beirut daily AN NAHAR Tuesday. He finally decided to draw up his own cabinet list of 30 members and present it to Suleiman in line with the Lebanese constitution which stipulates "the prime minister-designate shall form the government in coordination with the president of the republic."
Beirut news media, including leftist AS SAFIR, said Tuesday, "Hariri finally decided to throw the fireball in President Suleiman's court." No doubt, the paper added, "the president is embarrassed, and will take his time to decide whether or not to approve the lineup." Suleiman's visitors Monday quoted him as saying that he will not sign the government decree if it does not meet the requirements of the Lebanese constitution "regarding balance and common living."
During a Ramadan Iftar breakfast Monday evening, Hariri announced he had presented Suleiman with a 30-member cabinet after taking into consideration "the results of last June's general elections in the country, making sure the cabinet is harmonious and ensuring the principle of rotation" among the ministers. The Muslim Sunni premier-designate also said that, "I have a constitutional right and I practiced it. The president also has a constitutional right which I expect him to practice by accepting or rejecting the cabinet lineup." It is up to the opposition to accept or reject the proposed lineup, Hariri said.
Negative reaction from the opposition came swiftly. "I do not think that the method employed today takes Lebanon out of the government formation crisis. On the contrary, it further complicates the problem," said Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shiite Hizbullah group. (See more below) Hizbullah was allocated two seats in Hariri's proposed cabinet. Nasrallah described Hariri's move as inappropriate and said the prime minister-designate and his allies had not made any concessions in talks aimed at agreeing on the new unity government. It was Hizbullah's first public attack on Hariri since a June parliamentary election won by the Saudi--and U.S.-backed Sunni politician and his allies.
President Suleiman, who took office last year as a consensus candidate, is not expected to approve any cabinet proposal that does not have unanimous support among factions whose rivalries spilled into armed conflict last year. "The president informed me that he would study the formation," Hariri said after meeting Suleiman, who has said he wants the government in place before he travels to the U.N. General Assembly later this month.
The rival factions have agreed on the broad division of seats in the new cabinet. But Hariri, son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, has struggled to reach agreement with opposition politicians on the details. At the heart of the dispute are the demands of Christian leader Michel Aoun, an ally of Hizbullah. Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement holds more seats in parliament than any other Christian party (a bloc of 27 members out of the 128-seat parliament). Hariri has resisted Aoun's demand for Gibran Bassil, his son-in-law, to keep his post as telecoms minister. Aoun also wants to name the new interior minister.
Hariri's proposed line-up keeps Ziad Baroud in his current post as interior minister and hands the telecoms ministry to Ghazi Aridi, an associate of Druze leader Walid Jumblat, the media said. Hariri is keen to gain the telecoms portfolio for his coalition and oversee a long-stalled plan to privatize the telecoms sector. The sale of two state-owned mobile firms is expected to garner as much as $7 billion. Aoun said Hariri's move showed he did not want to form a government. "On the contrary, he wants to play with the cabinet formation according to his mood," Aoun told Sawt al-Mada radio station, according to a report published on his Tayyar website.
Fuad Siniora, the outgoing prime minister and a member of Hariri's Future Movement, will lead a caretaker cabinet until Suleiman issues a decree appointing the new government. Hariri said his proposal respected the broad seat-sharing arrangement agreed with the opposition. It gives Hariri's "March 14" alliance 15 of 30 seats in the new cabinet and the opposition "March 8" alliance 10 seats. President Suleiman is allowed to name the remaining five ministers, giving him a decisive say over cabinet decisions.
Hariri proposed Raya Hassan for finance minister, responsible for managing Lebanon's massive public debt burden, and Nada Mfarrij for the post of energy minister, the political sources said. They are two of four women in the proposed line-up. Both are close to Hariri. A political source had earlier named Mfarrij as the proposed economy minister. Hassan has an MBA from The George Washington University in the United States. She is currently manager of a United Nations Development Program project aimed at supporting decision-making at the office of the prime minister. The sources said that Elias al-Murr would keep his job as defense minister while the foreign ministry would go to Yassin Jaber, a Shiite who is close to parliament speaker and leading opposition figure Nabih Berri.
Hariri Proposes "Balanced" Government
Following the hour-long meeting in which Hariri presented his proposal to Suleiman on Monday, the prime minister-designate held a news conference. He said, "It is a great honor to be chosen as prime minister-designate and be given the task of forming the Lebanese government. After 70 days of consultations and discussions, I am able to propose a draft government which pleases everyone." Hariri added, "We hope this government achieves great things and serves the people with their everyday problems, brings stability, security, and renewed economic life to the country. The president told me he will study the file and make his decision according to the constitution, and so now I await his response."
Later, Hariri held a Ramadan banquet at a hotel and gave a speech. "We've been trying to form a government since the parliamentary elections. And after 70 days of consultations, and after 70 missed chances, we formed a government. We were constantly thinking how the majority could compromise more and more in order to achieve national consensus over the government, but at the end of the day there is one majority in this country and not two ... I exercised my constitutional right with a clear conscience. As for the opposition, they have the right to accept or reject my proposal," he said.
Opposition leader MP Michel Aoun did not receive news of Hariri's proposal well, with AN NAHAR quoting him as saying that Hariri was not democratic with his proposal. Aoun, who is currently out of the country, said during an interview with a Lebanese radio that Hariri does not have the right to name the ministers of other parties. "It's a breach of Lebanese democracy when the prime minister-designate names the ministers of other parties," Aoun said, "The naming of ministers should be proposed by the heads of parliamentary blocs being represented in cabinet."
"In any case, all of the ministers in Hariri's government who are part of the Free Patriotic Movement should immediately resign from their positions," Aoun said. The opposition leader also responded to Hariri's claims that the government proposed is "coherent and balanced." Aoun said, "Coherence is when we all respect the Lebanese constitution. Coherence is achieved through the proper management of power in the country in tandem with all other power sources, not by running the country with a few mafias that distribute power among their allies."
Aoun said he does not think Suleiman will agree to Hariri's government proposal, saying, "Now that the president knows our stance on this proposal, I don't think he will endorse it."
Meanwhile, Bassil, Aoun's son in-law, said the Free Patriotic Movement was being "politically attacked," AN NAHAR reported Tuesday. Bassil met with House Speaker Berri, and told reporters after the meeting, "We are being subjected to political attacks. They are saying that they have adopted the 'extended hand' policy, and this is what we are suffering from. Such a policy does not entail the complete disregard of a political power in the country. We go to sit down and hold a dialogue over the formation of the government, and we compromise time after time for things to move forward and in exchange we receive nothing."
According to the majority and much of Beirut's media, Bassil has been one of the biggest problems facing the formation of the Lebanese government, Aoun insisted on his retaining the telecoms ministry while the majority refused to give those who lost in the parliamentary elections a government portfolio. After a one-year stint as telecoms minister, Bassil lost the elections in the Batroun district to the ruling March 14 coalition. "There is a whole scenario at play here," Bassil said. "They invite people and hold talks and consultations and pretend they're working very hard to reach an agreement. Then they tell everybody else that 'look, we are trying to find an understanding with Michel Aoun but he isn't accepting anything.' The truth of the matter is that there was never a serious attempt to reach an agreement, it was all a media scam."
Hizbullah Secretary General Nasrallah criticized Hariri's proposal on Monday, AN NAHAR reported Tuesday. "The opposition will act in unison with regards to the new measures taken by Saad al-Hariri," Nasrallah said referring to Hariri's government proposal. "Every parliamentary bloc has the right to nominate its ministers," Nasrallah said, "And Hariri's behavior in this regard will only further complicate the solution. Since day one of the talks we held with the majority, they have not compromised a thing." Nasrallah also backed his close ally Aoun, defending the latter's decision to insist on Bassil retaining his ministry. "Michel Aoun has the full right to submit his demands to Hariri," Nasrallah said, "There are no norms or laws that state that somebody who lost the parliamentary elections cannot be a minister ... We all know that $2,500 were paid for each vote in the parliamentary elections, so if somebody lost this doesn't mean that he doesn't represent the Lebanese people."
"Make no mistake, the opposition will act as one unit in reaction to Saad al-Hariri's measures. We [the opposition] were a coherent unit before Hariri went to Beiteddine [the presidential summer residence], and we will remain a coherent unit after Hariri's visit to Beiteddine."
Among those supporting Hariri's proposal on Monday were Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel, who lauded Hariri's "brave stance," AN NAHAR reported Tuesday. At a news conference after the Phalange politburo's weekly meeting, Gemayel backed Hariri's government-formation proposal, saying any additional delays would threaten the role of the prime ministry and the presidency in Lebanese politics. He said Aoun's demand for the interior ministry portfolio is aimed at "violating the president's role." He added, "Another thing is Aoun's insistence on the telecoms ministry. The ministry should not be given to Aoun because the civil clashes on May 7 took place because of the said ministry, when Aoun was in control of it." He was referring to the civil clashes in May 2008 when Hizbullah briefly occupied Beirut, after the cabinet decided to cut the chords of Hizbullah's private phone network.
The following a detailed list of the cabinet as reported by the leftist AS SAFIR on Tuesday:
President's Ministers: Elias Murr (defense), Ziad Baroud (interior), Ms. Micheline Breidi, Adnan Kassar, and Adnan Sayyed Hussein.
Opposition Shiite Ministers: Mohammed Fneish, Hussein Hajj Hassan (youth and sports) Yassin Jaber (foreign affairs), Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh (health), and Ali Hussein Abdullah (agriculture).
Opposition Christian Ministers: Alan Aoun (public works), Farid Khazen (education), Hovig Mukhtarian (labor), Ms. Vera Yammine (state), and Edgar Maalouf (culture).
Sunni Ministers: Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Mohammed Safadi (economy), Ms. Ria Haffar al-Hassan (finance), Khaled Sarout, and one additional minister (unnamed).
Druze Ministers: Ghazi Aridi (telecoms), Wael Abu Faour (displaced), and Bahij Abu Hamzeh (state).
Christian Ministers: Imad Wakim (industry), Joe Sarkis (social affairs), Sami Gemayel (tourism), Michel Pharaon (information), Tarek Mitri, Jean Hogassapian (state), and Ms. Nada Mfarrej (energy).
Beirut news media speculated Tuesday on whether or not President Suleiman will accept the lineup as it is. If he rejects it, he is likely to ask Hariri to try again. There is already talk about a government of technocrats and a government of key political leaders.
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|Title Annotation:||Today's News Highlights|
|Publication:||The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)|
|Date:||Sep 8, 2009|
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