Middle East

Lebanon finance, foreign ministers to stay as new cabinet edges closer

Lebanons finance and foreign ministers will keep their posts in the new national unity government, sources said on Wednesday, with the country close to forming the cabinet after seven months of political wrangling.

Efforts to form the government, led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, have been obstructed by conflicting demands for cabinet seats that must be parceled out in line with a finely balanced, sectarian political system.

Heavily indebted and suffering from a stagnant economy, Lebanon is in dire need of an administration that can set about long-stalled reforms to put public debt on a sustainable footing.

Lebanese dollar-denominated bonds rose on progress towards the government formation, jumping to a five-week high.

The May 6 national election, Lebanons first in nine years, produced a parliament tilted in favor of the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, which together with its political allies won more than 70 of the 128 seats.

Hariri, who enjoys Western backing, lost more than one third of his lawmakers, though he remained Lebanons biggest Sunni Muslim leader and was nominated again as prime minister.

“We are on the brink of forming the government,” Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a political ally of Hezbollah, was quoted as saying by one of his MPs. Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said the remaining details should not need more than “two days … and we will have a government.”

Ali Hassan Khalil, a top aide to Berri, will remain finance minister, a senior official and a senior political source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had yet to be finalized and announced.

$11 billion pledged

International institutions and donor states want to see the next government take long-delayed steps to put public debt on a sustainable path to unlock more than $11 billion of support, mostly loans, pledged in April to help revive the economy.

Lebanon has the worlds third highest debt as a proportion of GDP.

The sources said Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) he founded, would keep his job as foreign minister.

Aoun has been a political ally of Hezbollah since 2006 and, despite some differences, supports the groups arsenal which he has said is needed to defend Lebanon from Israel.

Hezbollah is expected to name three ministers in the new government, one more than in the outgoing administration. One of these will be the health ministry, the most significant ministry the group would have controlled in any government.

Elias Bou Saab, also part of Aouns political bloc, would be the next defense minister, the senior political source said.

Lebanons army is a major recipient of US aid, receiving more than $1.6 billion since 2006. The defense ministry in the outgoing cabinet was also held by an Aoun ally.

The interior ministry is expected to remain with Hariris Future Movement.

A US State Department official said on Tuesday the United States hoped that next government would be willing to work with it “on areas of mutual interest” and expressed concern over Hezbollahs rising political clout in the country.


Last Update: Wednesday, 19 December 2018 KSA 18:49 – GMT 15:49