Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on late Wednesday the differences blocking a deal over a new national unity government were “not easy” and signaled he was at odds with his ally Hezbollah over the last outstanding issue.
Five months since an election, prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has been unable to clinch a deal on the new government because of the competing demands of rival parties for cabinet seats that are parceled out along sectarian lines.
A deal seemed close on Monday when a row over Christian representation was settled with the anti-Hezbollah Christian Lebanese Forces ceding ground to Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement, which is allied to Shia Hezbollah.
But Hezbollah is pressing its demand for one of its Sunni allies to be given a portfolio in the 30-seat cabinet to reflect gains they made in the May 6 parliamentary election.
Aoun, in a televised interview, said obstacles “are being created that are not proper and not justified”.
Addressing the demand of the Hezbollah-backed Sunnis, he said: “This matter caused the delay, and this delay is a type of political tactic that is hurting our big strategy.”
Aoun said the Hezbollah-backed Sunnis amounted to “individuals, not a bloc” and had gathered together “recently” to make their demand for a cabinet post.
Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni leader, has ruled out ceding one of his cabinet seats to the Hezbollah-allied Sunnis.
Another possible way out of the problem would be for Aoun to name one of the Hezbollah allies among a group of ministers allocated to him. But Aoun gave no indication he was willing to do so in the interview marking the second anniversary of his becoming president - a post reserved for a Maronite Christian.
Aoun said he wanted a strong prime minister, and not to weaken Hariri.
Hariri lost more than a third of his seats in the parliamentary election, many of them to the Hezbollah allies.
Lebanon is dire need of a government able to make economic reforms that are seen as more pressing than ever. The country is wrestling with the world’s third largest public debt as a proportion of the economy and stagnant growth.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.