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Political Squabbling Leaves Lebanon Without Government

  • Carrie Giardino

Lebanon's prime minister-designate is struggling to overcome squabbling among political parties to form the first Cabinet since Syrian troops withdrew. Negotiations began a week ago, and the prime minister-designate is balancing competing requests from rival parties for specific ministerial portfolios. Christian leader Michel Aoun decided not to join the government, when his request for the Justice Ministry was rejected.

Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora says he is making progress in putting together a Cabinet, following last month's elections, in which an anti-Syrian coalition won a majority of the 128 seats.

Prime Minister Siniora is facing many obstacles in putting together a Cabinet, including competing demands for specific ministries.

General Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, which holds 21 seats in the Parliament, told VOA he does not intend to participate in the new government, after his request for the Ministry of Justice portfolio was rejected.

"I indicated only a Ministry of Justice, because it is very essential, very important for the reforms," he said. "And, finally, Siniora did not find himself capable to do so. That's all. As I am a minority, my place is in the opposition, and I will play my role friendly - let's say like fair play."

He says he will respect the decision, but he says his coalition represents a percentage of the new parliament, and should be represented in the government.

"It is not a question of happiness or not," General Aoun said. "It is a question to get a true representation of the different groups. I didn't ask something impossible. I said my group constitutes a sixth of the parliament; I would like to have a sixth of the government. It was a simple proportion."

But Prime Minister Siniora reportedly has decided to allot the Justice Ministry to the leader of the largest parliamentary coalition, Saad Hariri, whose father, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in a bombing in February. Saad Hariri says the Justice Ministry is important to him to find out who killed his father.

Prime Minister Siniora is also struggling with a request made by the Shi'ite militant group, Hezbollah, which has decided to join the government for the first time. The group wants the Foreign Ministry portfolio, which is expected to play a key role in shaping Lebanon's relations with Syria, to go to a Shi'ite. Local newspaper reports say Mr. Siniora wants to give the Foreign Ministry portfolio to a former foreign minister, who is a Christian.

Mr. Siniora needs to present a list of potential candidates to Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, who will have the final say on the Cabinet appointments, before a legislative session of parliament can take place.