A Peek at Salam’s Controversial Cabinet

The main concern now is forming the cabinet. We will switch off our engines so that we can focus on reaching a good outcome. (Photo: Haytham Moussawi)

Published Friday, April 12, 2013

As premier-designate Tammam Salam focuses on forming his cabinet, the March 8 alliance made three observations about Salam that, in their view, do not bode well for the future.

First, March 8 remarked, Salam announced his candidacy from the home of former prime minister Saad Hariri. This occurred during a theatrical March 14 meeting meant to signal their return to power via a “bloodless coup.”

Second, Salam did not reach out to any senior leaders in March 8 after his designation, as is customary for new prime ministers. Salam’s excuse: he was preoccupied.

Third, March 8 questioned why Salam did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Hariri and Mikati, by immediately visiting Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah after being named prime minister. Hariri and Mikati’s goal was to initiate strategic dialogue with Nasrallah and boost cooperation. According to sources in Hezbollah, the current premier-designate and the Resistance party are not estranged.

One explanation has come from former prime minister Fouad Siniora’s circles, which purported that Salam’s political directive is clear: lead a government of independents to oversee the elections – a longstanding demand of both Saudi Arabia and March 14.

In this context, Al-Akhbar has learned from informed sources that on Wednesday evening, Siniora was putting the final touches on his cabinet line-up. It was not clear whether the former prime minister had handed over his list to the premier-designate, or if the latter would even adopt it.

Siniora’s line-up is based on a technocratic government comprising 14 ministers (seven Muslim and seven Christian). Al-Akhbar learned the majority of names on Siniora’s list, including:

Shia ministers: Raed Sharaf al-Din, first deputy governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon (BDL) and Youssef Khalil, a director at BDL. Al-Akhbar could not obtain the third name.

Sunni ministers: In addition to Salam, Siniora’s “cabinet recipe” includes four additional names, two of which would be chosen: Abdul-Hafiz Mansour, head of the BDL’s anti-money laundering commission and close to the Future Movement; Mohammed al-Mashnouq, who is close to Salam; Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces, as a possible contender for the ministry of interior; and former minister Khaled Qabbani.

Maronite ministers: The list included three names, three of which would be selected: Bassam Yammine, former energy minister in Mikati’s 2005 government and close to MP Suleiman Franjieh; former finance minister Jihad Azour for the same post; Joseph Tarabay; Naji al-Bustani, who is close to President Michel Suleiman and March 8; and former Minister Ziad Baroud.

Druze ministers: Bahij Abu Hamzeh for the energy ministry. Abu Hamzeh is the “secret ingredient” meant to entice Druze MP Walid Jumblatt to give a vote of confidence to the proposed cabinet in parliament.

Sources believe that, if adopted by Salam, President Suleiman may endorse this line-up. For his part, Jumblatt pledged to Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri not to consent to a government that is not acceptable to all political factions, particularly Hezbollah. Jumblatt may give such a government a vote of no-confidence, setting off a new round of negotiations to form a new cabinet.

Prominent March 8 sources said that Siniora’s circles are presenting the line-up in question as a fait accompli. To be sure, the proposed line-up would be a gross violation of the national pact, the constitution, and all norms in place, and would hence be unacceptable to many factions.

On Thursday, President Suleiman met with Salam to discuss the outcome of the consultations. The premier-designate spoke to reporters afterwards, and said, “The main concern now is forming the cabinet. We will switch off our engines so that we can focus on reaching a good outcome.”

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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