Lebanon's national unity cabinet formed five months after election

18:35, November 10, 2009      

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Lebanon's new cabinet was finally formed on Monday night, five months after the June parliamentary elections.

"Finally, the national-unity cabinet is born," new Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Monday night after the cabinet was publicly decreed following his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman. Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri had also joined their meeting to help put the finishing touches on the lineup.

In his speech Hariri said that the cabinet will either allow the Lebanese to renew trust in their institutions or repeat their failure in achieving consensus. He said he hopes the cabinet will work for Lebanon's best interests, face economic problems, launch a major legislative workshop and fully implement the Taif Accord.

Hariri also said he hoped the cabinet will be unified against Israeli threats and eager to liberate Lebanon's occupied lands.

International congratulations followed shortly after the cabinet formation. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed on Monday the new Lebanese national unity government, and called for action on restricting weapons in South Lebanon from anyone except the Lebanese army and other state forces.

Ban called on the new government of Lebanon to recommit to the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner welcomed the government formation and reiterated his country's support for Hariri.

A statement similar to Hariri's was issued earlier on Monday by Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, one of the leaders in the opposition bloc whose demands served as the main obstacles of the cabinet formation.

"We turned the page to ensure a better future for Lebanon and to confront all challenges," Aoun said.

The new cabinet is formed on the basis of 15-10-5 formula, which means that in the total 30 seats of the cabinet, 15 go to the Western and Saudi-backed majority, 10 to the opposition and five to President Suleiman. The formula guarantees the president's tipping vote and denies respectively the majority and the opposition absolute majority or veto power.

The country's Shiite armed group Hezbollah, a dominant power inthe Iran and Syria-backed opposition, holds two seats in the new cabinet, the Agriculture Ministry and State Ministry for Administrative Reform.

In the meantime, Fouad Siniora, the caretaker Prime Minister, announced to resign.

The cabinet was formed as the leaders of the opposition bloc agreed on Hariri's cabinet lineup proposal last Friday, ending the four-month-long bargaining over new cabinet's seats.

The assassinated former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's second son, Saad Hariri was designated as Prime Minister in late June following the parliamentary elections in which the Western and Saudi-backed March 14 Alliance won the majority over the Hezbollah-dominant March 8 Alliance supported by Iran and Syria.

Hariri was trying to form a national unity government including both the majority and the opposition. His mission was suspended for the first time as Walid Jumblatt, the majority bloc's Progressive Socialist Party leader announced his split with the March 14 Alliance in late July. Analysts said Jumblatt's change waned the political importance of the majority and made the opposition gain more weight in bargaining over the cabinet seats.

Hariri later conflicted with Aoun over some important ministries, especially the ministry of telecommunications, given its significant role in funding the state's treasury, as well as its pivotal importance with regard to security issues related to monitoring phone calls. Aoun also demanded a sovereign ministry, like defense, foreign or interior.

However, Hariri said Aoun's demands were the only obstacle of cabinet formation. Hariri bypassed Aoun's demands and presented a cabinet lineup proposal to Suleiman in September, but it was rejected unanimously by the opposition parties. Hariri stepped down but was re-designated one week later, as there was no one else to be designated.

As the process seemed to be stuck into a deadlock, the light of hope came when Saudi King Abdullah paid a landmark visit to Syria in October, a sign of rapprochement of the two regional powers who both have big influence in Lebanon.

Both the rival blocs made some compromise, as Aoun gave up insisting his son-in-law Jebran Bassil be appointed minister of telecommunications, while the majority allowed this portfolio remain in Aoun's party.

Source: Xinhua
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