The Daily Star, Lebanon
May 31 2008

Siniora meets MPs to discuss allocation of cabinet posts

Raad confirms opposition wants to appoint sunni, druze

By Hussein Abdallah
Daily Star staff
Saturday, May 31, 2008

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora began on Friday consultations
with the various parliamentary blocs in a bid to form a new national
unity government. Sources close to Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily
Star on Friday that a late afternoon meeting between Berri and
parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri was "very positive." The
sources added that Berri sees no obstacles facing the formation of the
new government.

Siniora kicked off the consultations by meeting Parliament Speaker
Nabih Berri, deputy Speaker Farid Makkari, Independent MPs Michel Murr
and Hussein al-Husseini.

After talks with Siniora, Makkari said that he told the prime minister
that the new government must take Lebanon from political confrontation
to political dialogue.

Makari added that the cabinet must adopt the inaugural speech of
President Michel Suleiman and start preparing for next year's
parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad told reporters after meeting
Siniora that the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc has forwarded its
requests regarding the number of ministers and the portfolios it wants
in the next government.

Raad said the bloc has requested that the opposition get a Sunni
minister and a Druze minister at the expense of Hizbullah's Shiite
representation in the government.

The Hizbullah bloc also discussed with Siniora the prospects of the
next ministerial platform. "There were no differences between our
vision and Siniora's vision on the issue of the resistance," Raad

Media reports on Friday said that the opposition wanted to trade two
Shiite ministers for a Sunni and a Druze minister.

Under such formula, Hizbullah, the Amal Movement, and the Free
Patriotic Movement would give their Sunni and Druze allies the chance
to take part in the government.

Meanwhile, Berri's Liberation and Development bloc insisted after
talks with Siniora that the Interior Ministry portfolio in the new
government should go to a neutral figure.

The next interior minister is likely to be appointed by the president
as he is required to remain neutral while conducting next year's
legislative elections.

Meanwhile, Murr lashed out at the opponents of his son, Defense
Minister Elias Murr, saying that "Elias Murr is our candidate for the
government and this is the case for a big portion of the people of

"I want to tell some lawmakers who are against appointing Elias Murr
in the new government that they would not have made it to Parliament
had it not been for the votes of the supporters of Elias Murr's
father," he said, in an indirect criticism of members of MP Michel
Aoun's Reform and Change bloc.

"It is up to Siniora and to the president to appoint Elias Murr in the
ministry that best suits him," Murr added.

Aoun told reporters after meeting Siniora on Friday that his bloc
wanted five ministers in the next cabinet, adding that the posts would
be distributed among different Christian sects.

Meanwhile, MP Hagop Parkradounian of the Armenian bloc, which is
allied with Aoun, told reporters after talks with Siniora that it
wants two ministers in the next government.

Pakradounian said that former minister Alain Tabourian was one of the
bloc's nominees for the next government.

Meanwhile, the different blocs representing the March 14 Forces
maintained a low profile regarding their demands in the next

Hariri only told reporters that the general atmosphere was positive,
while Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said he
preferred not to make any comment. MP George Adwan, representing the
Lebanese Forces bloc, also declined to reveal the number of ministers
requested by his bloc.

However, the Tripoli bloc, headed by MP Mohammad Safadi, requested
that Safadi remain in his post as public works and transportation