BEIRUT: The formation of Lebanon’s next Cabinet was delayed Friday amid a dispute over a key security portfolio between Hezbollah and the Future Movement, sources close to the formation process said.
Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam postponed his morning meeting with President Michel Sleiman to the afternoon in order to give rival groups more time to overcome the remaining obstacle over the Interior Ministry portfolio, the sources said.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc is expected to hold talks with Salam later in the day to discuss recent developments.
Hezbollah and Speaker Nabih Berri are seeking a consensus candidate for the sovereign Interior Ministry post and have so far opposed candidate names put forward by the Future Movement including retired Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, the sources said.
The Future Movement announced its intention to name Rifi for the post during a 2.30 a.m. phone call to Salam, who in turn contacted Speaker Nabih Berri about the decision, the sources said. The speaker rejected the proposal, the sources added.
Rifi is seen as a controversial figure by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition. Salam was appointed in April 2013, days after a government resignation prompted by a fall out over extending Rifi’s mandate and the subject of establishing a committee to oversee the parliamentary elections.
A compromise between the Future Movement and Free Patriotic Movement over the Energy Ministry had raised hopes late Thursday of an imminent birth of the Cabinet.
Under the compromise, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil will be allotted the Foreign Ministry post, while Tashnag MP Arthur Nazarian will replace Bassil, a political source said Thursday.
Bassil will also double as acting energy minister, the source said.
Nazarian belongs to the parliamentary Change and Reform bloc that is headed by MP Michel Aoun. The March 8 political leader had insisted the Energy portfolio remain in the hands of Bassil, his son-in-law.
The March 8 coalition, Future Movement, and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party agreed last month on a deal to form an all-embracing Cabinet, in a bid to end months of political deadlock.
The deal is based on 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup in which eight ministers are allotted to the March 8 and March 14 coalitions each. The rest of the ministers are to be named by the president, the prime minister-designate and Jumblatt.
As of Thursday, rival coalitions have named candidates to a number of ministries.
Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from Berri’s parliamentary bloc will be named finance minister, while March 14 MP Butros Harb will be allotted the Telecommunications Ministry.
Berri’s bloc will also get the Public Works Ministry portfolio.
Abu Faour will be named health minister.
Meanwhile, the president, who met Salam twice Thursday night, urged politicians to take advantage of the current political deal to form a new government.
“Sleiman called on [politicians] to seize the opportunity of the positive atmosphere which has recently prevailed,” his office quoted him as saying Friday.
"[He also] stressed on the need for politicians to reach a consensus in order to eliminate causes of tension rather than cling to certain proposals,” he added.
Sleiman also said that such a consensus would pave the way to “overcome the idea of sharing political spoils and tit-for-tat vetoes for the sake of the country and its security.”