Lebanon News

Lebanon announces government of ‘national interest’

President Michel Sleiman, center, receives Speaker Nabih Berri, left, and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam at Baabda Palace, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Saturday formed his 24-member Cabinet, bringing together figures from the country’s rival political groups and ending months of political deadlock.

Salam’s government will face a number of challenges including Lebanon’s deteriorating security situation as well as the upcoming presidential elections due on May 25.

“After 10 months of intensive efforts following my designation by 124 MPs which required a lot of effort, patience, and flexibility, the Cabinet of national interest was born,” Salam told reporters at Baabda Palace after Cabinet Secretary General Suhail Bouji announced the government decrees.

“It is an all-embracing Cabinet representing the best formula that will allow [Lebanon] to face the political, security and socioeconomic challenges in this current phase,” he added.

A presidential decree appointing Salam and his Cabinet was issued after talks between President Michel Sleiman, Salam and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at Baabda Palace.

A self-avowed centrist, Salam, 68, was appointed on April 6, 2013, after a fall out among ministers led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

In his televised address to the Lebanese, Salam said his Cabinet was in line with the National Pact and left no room for political disruptions.

“I distributed the 24 portfolios in a way that achieves [sectarian] balance and national partnership at a distance from the negative effects of disruptions,” he said.

Salam also noted his government adopted the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios based on party and sect. He said the mechanism would “liberate ministries from sectarian chains.”

He said his Cabinet would be able to ensure the necessary atmosphere to hold National Dialogue sessions, the timely elections of the next president and draft a new elections law for the country.

The newly formed Cabinet brings together Lebanon’s rival March 14 and March 8 coalitions as well as so-called centrist figures loyal to the president, Salam and Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblatt.

While Hezbollah was allotted two portfolios in the government, the Future Movement has four ministers including the sovereign Interior Ministry.

Salam named Samir Moqbel as deputy prime minister and defense minister. Nuhad Mashnouq was named interior minister, Gebran Bassil foreign minister and Ali Hasan Khalil finance minister.

Retired Police Chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, seen as a controversial figure by the March 8 coalition, was appointed justice minister.

The Energy portfolio was handed to Tashnag MP Arthur Nazarian.

The government line-up includes only one female minister – Judge Alice Shabtini for the Ministry for the Displaced.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri phoned Salam and congratulated him on the formation of the new government, praising the Beirut MP's "patience and wisdom.”

According to his office, Hariri expressed hope that this Cabinet would be up to the challenges and would hold the presidential elections on time.

The March 8 coalition, the Future Movement, and Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party agreed last month on a deal to form an all-embracing Cabinet.

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.

The lineup effectively grants the rival camps veto power in the government.





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