Siniora insists new cabinet “inevitable” despite wrangling over portfolios

Siniora insists new cabinet “inevitable” despite wrangling over portfolios

Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora said on Friday that the formation of a new government was inevitable despite what he described as relatively minor difficulties.

"Things are moving in the right direction. Whenever we are faced with an obstacle, we are working on eliminating it … We faced a minor obstacle today, but we managed to overcome it … There is no need for tension," he said, without explaining what the obstacle was.

Speaking to reporters at the Grand Serail, Siniora said he was still waiting for the opposition”s answer on his proposals for the next government.

Siniora, who contacted Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun on Friday, defended the idea of considering the portfolios of interior and defense as part of the president”s quota in the new cabinet.

Siniora reportedly proposed two formulas on how to distribute portfolios in the new cabinet, but news reports on Friday said the opposition had its reservations on both.

According to published media reports, one formula gives the opposition finance, public works, education, displaced, tourism, environment, youth and sports, and culture, while the other gives the opposition foreign affairs, energy, justice, economy, industry, agriculture, social affairs, and health.

The first option is headed by the Finance Ministry, which is requested by Aoun, while the second option is headed by the Foreign Ministry, demanded by his ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Choosing one of the two formulas will leave one of the two leaders dissatisfied.

News reports on Friday said the opposition was insisting on getting two out of the four sovereign portfolios – finance, foreign affairs, interior, and defense – while both of Siniora”s formulas give only one such portfolio to the opposition.

Yielding to the opposition”s demands would leave the parliamentary majority with no sovereign portfolios if President Michel Sleiman gets the security-related interior and defense portfolios.

However, Arab diplomatic sources were quoted Friday by

As-Safir newspaper as saying that the Justice Ministry should be added to the sovereign portfolios in a bid to facilitate a fair distribution of ministries.

Given the opposition”s insistence on getting two sovereign ministries, adding the Justice Ministry to the sovereign portfolios would allow the parliamentary majority to get the two remaining portfolios if only the Interior Ministry went to the president.

News reports on Friday also said the opposition had reservations about keeping Defense Minister Elias Murr in his post.

The reports said that the opposition was not willing to regard Murr as a neutral figure and believed that keeping him in the post was equivalent to giving the parliamentary majority an additional minister.

According to an agreement signed in Doha on May 21, Lebanon”s new cabinet will include 16 ministers for the parliamentary majority, 11 for the opposition, and three for the president.

Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Moussa voiced regrets Friday over the failure of Lebanese politicians to agree on the makeup of a new government, more than two weeks since the naming of a prime minister.

"We are surprised, and we regret and express our reproach because a government still has not been formed," Moussa told AFP after arriving in Beirut on a private visit to attend the wedding of Berri”s daughter.

Forming a cabinet "is an inseparable part of the Doha Accord and a pillar of Lebanon”s stability," he said, referring to the deal worked out last month under Qatari mediation that brought Lebanon”s feuding political factions back from the brink of civil war.

"We hope the Lebanese will succeed in forming a government quickly after they implemented the first item of the Doha accord when they elected a new president," Moussa later said after a meeting with Sleiman at the Presidential Palace in Baabda.

The Arab League chief told reporters that he did not believe Arab intervention was necessary to facilitate the formation of the new government.

"Since day one, we refused to interfere in the details related to the formation of the new cabinet, such as the distribution of portfolios and the names of the prospective ministers," he said.

Also on Friday, opposition MP Nabil Nicolas told ANB television that Siniora should step down if a new government is not formed within a week.

"If Siniora is incapable of parliamentary consultations should take place and a new premier should be named," Nicolas said.

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