BEIRUT: If minor differences over some portfolios are resolved, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is expected to announce a national unity Cabinet Friday following a compromise between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement over the Energy Ministry, political sources said Thursday.
The row over the Energy portfolio, which has held up the Cabinet formation for weeks, was resolved in a series of phone contacts between caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil and Nader Hariri, head of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s office.
Under the compromise, Bassil, who has insisted on retaining the Energy portfolio, will be allotted the Foreign Ministry, while Tashnag MP Arthur Nazarian will replace Bassil as energy minister, a political source told The Daily Star.
Bassil will also double as acting energy minister, the source said.
Nazarian belongs to the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, whose leader MP Michel Aoun was adamant on retaining the Energy portfolio for Bassil, his son-in-law.
Under Salam’s proposed 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, which is based on the rotation of ministerial portfolios among sects and parties, the Future Movement MP Samir Jisr will be allotted the Interior Ministry, while the Defense portfolio will go to caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel, the source said.
Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc will be named finance minister, while March 14 MP Butros Harb will be allotted the Telecommunications Ministry, the source added.
Berri’s bloc will also get the Public Works Ministry portfolio, the source said.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc will be named health minister.
Media reports said the Economy Ministry would be allotted to the Future Movement, the Labor Ministry to the Marada Movement, and the Information portfolio to the Kataeb Party.
It was not immediately known what ministerial portfolios Hezbollah would get in the new Cabinet.
However, minor differences remained over the distribution of some ministerial portfolios that could delay the birth of the new Cabinet as rival political parties are jockeying for the Public Works and Justice ministries.
Berri is scheduled to begin a weeklong Gulf tour Friday afternoon and his presence at Baabda Palace before the announcement of the Cabinet lineup is essential according to norms.
Therefore, if the speaker leaves Beirut without visiting Baabda Palace, this would signal a delay in the Cabinet formation.
Aoun’s agreement to allot the Energy portfolio to a member of his bloc removed the last major hurdle holding up Cabinet’s formation.
The FPM leader has repeatedly rejected the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios, arguing that it is unconstitutional and aims solely at stripping his party of the Energy Ministry, currently held by Bassil.
The concept of rotating ministerial portfolios was part of a political deal to form a new Cabinet based on the 8-8-8 lineup. The deal was reached last month by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, the Future Movement, and Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party in a bid to break the 10-month-old Cabinet impasse.
Aoun and March 8 parties have threatened to withdraw from a fait accompli government, a move that would have plunged the country into further political turmoil. Meanwhile, President Michel Sleiman said he hoped political leaders would recognize the dangerous phase the country was passing trough which he said should stimulate boosted cooperation toward the Cabinet formation process.
He also said that a new Cabinet would revive the executive branch of government and serve as a political umbrella for Lebanon and the Lebanese.
Sleiman’s remarks came during a meeting he chaired with several high-ranking security and judicial officials.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi attended the meeting at Baabda Palace.
The meeting discussed the Lebanese Army’s recent discovery of a terrorist cell and its prevention of security incidents including car bombings and suicide attacks.
The attendees agreed on the need to maintain cooperation among security agencies including the exchange of intelligence.
Mikati struck an upbeat note on the Cabinet formation.
“So far, it seems that there are positive and good matters. The Cabinet may see the light of day soon,” Mikati told reporters after meeting Beirut Maronite Archbishop Boulos Mattar.
He called for national unity to save Lebanon “especially under these very difficult circumstances.”
“We hope this matter will be translated very soon through the formation of a Cabinet at the earliest possible time so that it can begin its work at all levels,” Mikati added.
Separately, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is set to address the Lebanese live on the party’s Al-Manar TV station at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on the anniversary of the assassination of the group’s leaders Imam Mughniyeh, Abbas Musawi and Sheikh Ragheb Harb.
In addition to the Cabinet crisis, Nasrallah is expected to touch on the growing threat of takfiri groups following the wave of deadly car bombings and suicide attacks that targeted the group’s strongholds in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa town of Hermel over the past few weeks.