The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Tensions rise between Aoun, Hezbollah over Cabinet

One solution would be for president and party to each name ‘one of the other’s ministers’

- By Joseph Haboush

BEIRUT: Tensions have risen between President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah over the formation of a new government, despite both sides playing down the rift, adding a new dimension to the Cabinet stalemate, political sources said Thursday.

“There is friction between Aoun and Hezbollah over the latter’s demand for a Sunni minister outside of the Future Movement in the next Cabinet,” one political source told The Daily Star.

A group of six Sunni lawmakers backed by Hezbollah who are not affiliated with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Future Movement insist on being represente­d in the new government, but Aoun said Wednesday night that they did not have a right to representa­tion because they were not part of a unified parliament­ary bloc.

However, a Hezbollah source denied that there was any tension with Aoun, but acknowledg­ed that progress toward a new government was now “frozen.” The source said Hezbollah’s ties with “his excellency [Aoun] are great. The strategic alliance with him is solid.”

The source cited the Syrian war as one of the many events that could have harmed the party’s relationsh­ip with Aoun, but did not. “You think this issue of Sunni representa­tion will?”

Neverthele­ss, Aoun’s stance has not altered Hezbollah’s resolve on the issue. “We will not say whether or not this was before or after Aoun’s comments, but we wanted Sunni representa­tion before and we still do now.

“If we have a problem with any political side or official, we always discuss it behind closed doors and not in the media.”

While local media reported that MP Mohammad Raad would lead a Hezbollah delegation to Baabda Palace to hash out the issue, the source said no meeting was held and that no meeting is scheduled between Aoun and any Hezbollah official.

“There is no solution in sight and there is no proposal for us to give up a Shiite minister in return for the naming of a Sunni minister,” the source said.

In the current Cabinet draft lineup, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will each get three ministers reserved for the Shiite sect. Aoun will name one Sunni minister after agreeing to allow Hariri to name a Christian minister.

A source from the presidenti­al palace said that one solution could be for Hezbollah to give up one of its Shiite ministers for Aoun to name, while Aoun, in return, would

let Hezbollah name his Sunni minister.

“If there is a will, then this is one of the solutions that could solve the issue,” the Baabda Palace source said.

This source described the relationsh­ip between Aoun and Hezbollah as “strategic,” and said it was unharmed by the group impeding on Cabinet formation. “Both sides agree that there are political tactics and this is one of them,” the source said in reference to Hezbollah’s demands.

The Hezbollah source, meanwhile, brought up Hariri’s comments at a conference in Saudi Arabia last week to justify the Cabinet formation delay. “Even Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia said that Lebanon is used to government­s taking seven or eight months to form. They [political parties] have been arguing for five months over other obstacles and now that ours has not been solved, it’s our fault that there is no Cabinet?”

Hezbollah’s roadblock, the source claimed, does not mean that they don’t want a government soon. He downplayed recent reports about Lebanon’s poor economy, which have been cited to underscore the urgent need for a government. “The sanctions on Iran, the World Bank report on the state of Lebanon’s economy; they’re all problems that apparently came up in the last 48 hours,” the source said sarcastica­lly.

The World Bank, in a report released this week, warned that Lebanon’s risk profile was rising sharply in light of a convergenc­e of negative local and global factors, such as global monetary conditions. The World Bank also stressed that Lebanon’s macro-financial conditions were under heavy scrutiny as the country faces increasing challenges.

Neverthele­ss, a source close to Hariri commended Aoun’s stance on rejecting the six Sunni lawmakers’ demand. “The president said what he’s supposed to say and it’s obvious that there is a disagreeme­nt between Hezbollah and Aoun,” the source told The Daily Star.

Asked how Aoun’s stance would affect the formation of the government, the source said it meant the formation is “frozen.”

“We have to see why Hezbollah is doing this and what its goals are,” the source added.

Hariri traveled to France Thursday for a “private visit,” a statement from his office said. The statement did not specify when Hariri would return.

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