BEIRUT: The sputtering Cabinet formation process hit a new hurdle Thursday, with Hezbollah voicing its objection to allotting two security ministries to the March 14 coalition, political sources said.
“Talks on the distribution of sovereign portfolios have returned to square one,” a source familiar with the negotiations told The Daily Star.
Sovereign portfolios refer to the Defense, Interior, Foreign and Finance ministries.
Other sources said that Hezbollah opposed granting the Interior Ministry to the Future Movement and the Defense Ministry to another March 14 figure as initially agreed. The sources added that Hezbollah proposed granting the Interior Ministry to a minister loyal to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam instead.
The source familiar with deliberations said that granting the Interior Ministry to Salam would undo all the progress made in negotiations on the distribution of sovereign portfolios, as it would make it impossible to grant the Foreign Ministry to Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement as offered by Salam earlier this week. The Foreign Ministry in this case would go to the March 14 coalition.
The sources said that Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt was mediating in order to resolve the issue.
This latest wrinkle complicates the existing standoff over rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects, which has also hindered the Cabinet formation process, now in its 11th month.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Jumblatt agreed last month to form an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup. The deal also stipulated that key portfolios be rotated among sects.
The agreement ended nine months of Cabinet impasse during which the Future Movement refused to join a government with Hezbollah before the party withdrew its fighters from Syria.
For its part, Hezbollah said it would only support a government based on the 9-9-6 lineup.
Aoun, Hezbollah’s ally, argues that the principle of rotation is unconstitutional, violates the National Pact on power-sharing between sects and only aims at stripping his party of the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil. Hezbollah has failed so far to convince Aoun to accept the principle of rotation.
A new government is unlikely to emerge Friday, with President Michel Sleiman, who needs to sign the decree forming the government, traveling to Tunisia to attend a ceremony on the adoption of the new Tunisian constitution.
Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc called Thursday for eliminating all obstacles hindering the formation of an all-embracing Cabinet in which all political parties are fairly represented.
“The current opportunity should not be lost by having [someone] attempt to be too clever and give [others] justification to challenge the [next] government’s adherence to the National Pact, its constitutionality, or to weaken actual national partnership in its lineup,” the bloc said in a statement released after its regular meeting in Beirut’s southern suburbs.“The formation of a political all-embracing government requires that all relevant officials demonstrate more eagerness and be more dynamic in order to overcome obstacles preventing the participation of all political parties based on their weight,” the statement said.
The bloc added that efforts should focus on opening the door for cooperation between all political factions to spare the country further complications on the eve of presidential polls, which the bloc emphasized should be held on time. The constitutional period to elect a new president starts on March 25, two months before Sleiman’s term expires.
Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said Hezbollah was pushing Aoun to stand firm on his opposition regarding rotation because the party was not interested in having a new government in the first place.
“It is very clear that Hezbollah is inciting General Aoun [to oppose rotation] because it does not want a government,” Fatfat told a local radio station. “Hezbollah made concessions in form on the request of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, but is going back on these concessions in this way.”
The lawmaker said Hezbollah was interested in keeping the government of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in power so that it would manage the country when the party prevents presidential polls. – Additional reporting by Dana Khraiche