BEIRUT: Late-night contacts have revived hopes for forming a new Cabinet, hours after a dispute over the Interior Ministry portfolio between the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the Future Movement delayed the birth of the government, political sources said Friday.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition’s rejection of the Future Movement’s nomination of retired Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi for the sovereign Interior Ministry earlier in the day appeared to have thwarted the Cabinet formation efforts.
Contacts between the rival political factions late Friday night focused on naming a more moderate Future candidate for the Interior Ministry, while allotting a different ministerial post to Rifi, the sources said.
A final agreement on a substitute for Rifi in the Interior Ministry could pave the way for an imminent formation of a new Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup, the sources added. Among candidates for the Interior Ministry post are Future MPs Nuhaq Mashnouq and Samir Jisr.
However, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the Future Movement upheld Rifi’s nomination for the Interior Ministry for now, while leaving the door open for negotiations on another candidate.
“So far, there has been no change in our position on Rifi’s nomination for the Interior Ministry,” Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, told The Daily Star late Friday.
He said he consulted by phone with Speaker Nabih Berri Friday on the Cabinet crisis, adding that contacts were ongoing to break the 10-month-old deadlock by forming an 8-8-8 government.
Asked if he expected a breakthrough that would lead to the Cabinet formation Saturday, Siniora said: “We will wait and see. I cannot express an opinion now.”
Hours before Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was supposed to present an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup to President Michel Sleiman Friday morning, the Future Movement proposed the name of Rifi for the Interior Ministry. Berri and Hezbollah rejected Rifi’s nomination.
Earlier in the day, a senior March 8 source said the Cabinet formation bid has returned to square one following the row over naming Rifi for the Interior Ministry.
“The dispute over Rifi’s nomination has led to the breakdown of the Cabinet formation efforts,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source added that Berri’s Amal Movement and Hezbollah were irked by the agreement reached by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun to resolve the rift over the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
“The 8-8-8 Cabinet agreement called for a just and comprehensive rotation of ministerial portfolios,” the source said.
The dispute over the Interior Ministry portfolio prompted Salam to cancel a visit to Baabda Palace Friday during which he was supposed to announce his 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup.
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 Berri about the decision.