Damascus: Less than one month after parliamentary elections were held, a simmering crisis is underway within the Christian community of Lebanon, between the Lebanese Forces (LF) of Samir Geagea and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of President Michel Aoun, headed presently by his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Jibran Bassil.
For decades, the president of the republic was entitled to name one minister in any government formation, accepted by all parties as his “share” of the cabinet.
This time, however, Aoun, in his capacity as both president of the country and president of the FPM bloc, gets to name two ministers which would greatly exaggerate his influence over the cabinet at the expense of the Lebanese Forces.
In the current caretaker cabinet, the FPM hold eight portfolios: defence, foreign, environment, justice, presidential affairs, combating corruption, economy and energy.
Geagea supporters have only three: deputy prime minister, information and social affairs.
Although the Lebanese Forces made gains in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections held earlier this month grabbing 15 parliamentary seats (up from eight), the FPM still holds 10 more seats than they do.
Foreign Minister Jibran Bassil, who also happens to be Aoun’s son-in-law, wants to keep the party’s eight portfolios and get one seat from LF as he cannot get seats reserved for Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri’s Future Movement.
By tradition and gentleman agreement, the division of power is very delicate in Lebanon, with certain posts traditionally in the hands of certain sects.
The Sunnis have held the premiership since 1943 and several posts affiliated with it, like the Ministry of Interior.
Likewise Shiites get the speakership of parliament, and for nearly 30 years, they have also handled the ministry of finance, making it impossible for the seat to go to anyone else.
For now both Hezbollah and the Future Movement are standing at a distance from the dispute — viewing it as an internal Christian matter that should be settled between the two parties.
Commenting on the issue, Hilal Khashan, a veteran professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, tells Gulf News: “It is actually Jibran Basil who is insisting on getting six seats for the FPM and four seats for Aoun. He appears to be grooming himself to succeed Aoun and his goal is to evict the Lebanese Forces from the political scene and to monopolise the Christian representation.”
He went on to explain that the presidential allocation of a cabinet seat happened during Michel Sulaiman’s tenure as president from 2008-20014. The decision was taken as a way to assure that the March 8 coalition would have veto power.
This is because, at the time, Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal held a third of the cabinet seats, and in order to veto they needed one-third plus one cabinet votes.
“Bassil is acting tough because he wants to create a new political reality. This intransigence can only delay the formation of the cabinet given it cannot be formed without accommodating the LF.”