Lebanon gets a new cabinet; challenges remain
Beirut - The Lebanese political dynamic that emerged with the election of Michel Aoun as president seven weeks ago was reinforced by the formation of a national accord cabinet that comprises members of most of the country’s political groups, including the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The 30-member cabinet, announced by Prime Minister Saad Hariri on December 18th, will have to deal with many pressing issues after almost two-and-a-half years of political paralysis. Among these are the fallout from the war in neighbouring Syria, maintaining the country’s security, reviving the stagnant economy, attracting much-needed investment and hosting nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
However, the cabinet’s main task will be preparing for parliamentary elections — the first in eight years — due in May. Hariri said the government’s “first mission” was to work with the parliament to draft an electoral law that would secure “proportional and right representation”. That would mean meeting a demand by Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, for greater Christian representation.
The battle is also about securing a majority in the next parliament, which, if stripped away from Hariri and his anti-Syria/Iran allies, would give Hezbollah and its supporters the upper hand in the legislative council, too.
Hezbollah got its usual two portfolios — this time the ministries of Industry and Sports — in the new cabinet but its pro Syria/Iran allies have the Foreign, Defence and Justice ministries, indicating Hezbollah’s influence is likely to increase on that front.
The new government includes 23 newcomers, among them Enaya Ezzeddine, who wears the veil, as minister for Administrative Development. The appointment of a man, Jean Ogasapian, as the minister in charge of Women’s Affairs, has been criticised. As has the choice of retired judge Salim Jreissati, a Christian, as Justice minister. He assisted the legal defence of Hezbollah members tried in absentia by the Special Tribunal in The Hague for the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father.
The new cabinet still must be approved by parliament.
Lebanese hopes have been revived by the positive political development in the country but neither the new cabinet nor the electoral law being drafted by the ruling parties themselves is likely to bring about major change, analysts say.