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WikiLeaks: 2008-05-29: 08BEIRUT799: Lebanon: PM-designate Siniora Begins Cabinet Formation; Let the Horse-trading Begin

by WikiLeaks. 08BEIRUT799: May 29, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 02:12 PM UT


Viewing cable 08BEIRUT799, LEBANON: PM-DESIGNATE SINIORA BEGINS CABINET

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BEIRUT799 2008-05-29 16:56 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
VZCZCXRO6223
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0799/01 1501656
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 291656Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2102
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2430
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2729
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 000799 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA 
ALSO FOR IO A/S SILVERBERG AND PDAS WARLICK 
USUN FOR KHALILZAD/WOLFF/KUMAR/PHEE 
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/29/2018 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PINR ASEC UNSC EAIR SA IR LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON:  PM-DESIGNATE SINIORA BEGINS CABINET 
FORMATION; LET THE HORSE-TRADING BEGIN 
 
REF: A. BEIRUT 780 
 
     B. BEIRUT 770 
     C. BEIRUT 766 
     D. BEIRUT 747 
     E. BEIRUT 733 
     F. BEIRUT 724 
 
Classified By: CDA Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 
(b) and (d). 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (C) Following President Sleiman's May 28 nomination of PM 
Siniora to head the next government, Siniora will begin the 
difficult process of cabinet formation.  The slight margin of 
votes in his favor is sure to encourage the opposition, which 
accuses him of being the "American" and not a consensus PM, 
to extract as many concessions as possible.  While the 
complicated horse-trading involved in cabinet formation makes 
it difficult to predict who will emerge victorious, we do not 
see Round Two of the Doha process proceeding nearly as 
quickly nor as smoothly as the election of President Sleiman. 
 We expect Round Three -- formulation of the ministerial 
statement to parliament, including the government's position 
on Hizballah's arms -- to be even more contentious.  End 
summary. 
 
THE LONG ROAD TO 
CABINET FORMATION 
----------------- 
 
2. (SBU) On May 28, President Michel Sleiman held binding 
consultations with the various parliamentary blocs to 
nominate the prime minister of the next cabinet after the 
majority chose Fouad Siniora to reassume the post of 
premiership.  68 out of 127 parliamentarians nominated PM 
Siniora to form the new cabinet (as opposed to 126 out of 128 
votes he received when he was designated as PM in July 2005). 
 
 
3. (SBU) All of the March 14 blocs voted for Siniora, with 
vote tallies as follows: Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces (5), 
Walid Jumblatt's Democratic Gathering (17), Saad Hariri's 
Future Movement (32), and the Tripoli bloc (4).  Other 
independent parliamentarians who voted for Siniora were 
Ghassan Tueini, Boutros Harb, Nayla Mouawad, Samir Franjiyeh, 
Solange Gemayel, Robert Ghanem, Michel Murr, Mosbah Ahdab, 
Elias Atallah and Jawad Boulos. 
 
4. (SBU) While the Shia bloc represented by Amal movement and 
Hizballah cast &blank8 votes, Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic 
movement and the Zahle popular bloc of MP Elie Skaff 
nominated different candidates for the premiership, including 
former Minister of Industry Leila Solh, Transportation 
Minister Mohammad Safadi, and MP Bahije Tabbarah.  The 
Armenian Tashnaq party also cast blank votes.  Others who 
cast blank votes or voted against Siniora were:  Hussein 
Husseini, Nader Sukkar, the SSNP bloc, the Syrian Baath, 
Usama Saad, Bahije Tabbarah (who voted for Hariri), Pierre 
Daccashe (who voted for Bahije Tabbarah) and Alawite MP 
Mustafa Hussein. 
 
5. (SBU) PM-designate Siniora began the process of cabinet 
formation on May 29 by first consulting with former PMs, as 
protocol dictates, and will begin consulting with 
parliamentary blocs on May 30.  According to the Doha 
agreement, the cabinet will be comprised of 30 ministers, 16 
for the majority, 3 for President Sleiman, and 11 for the 
opposition (a blocking third). 
 
6. (SBU) Under the Taif agreement, half of the cabinet 
members are Christians, and the other half Muslim.  The 
Christians are divided as follows:  6 Maronite, 4 Greek 
Orthodox, 3 Catholic, 1 Armenian, and 1 other minority 
Christian (Protestant, Syriac, etc.).  The Muslims include 6 
Sunni, 6 Shia, and 3 Druze.  The four "sovereign ministries" 
(Foreign Affairs, Defense, Interior, and Finance) will be the 
most hotly disputed, with Justice a close fifth. 
 
7. (SBU) After the consultation process (which many are 
 
BEIRUT 00000799  002 OF 003 
 
 
predicting could last weeks or more), Siniora, along with 
President Sleiman, will issue a decree forming the new 
cabinet.  Once formed, the cabinet must agree, by two-thirds 
majority, on its general policy statement ("bayan wizari"). 
It then submits the statement to parliament within thirty 
days in order to obtain the vote of confidence, which 
requires a simple majority (64 out of 127 parliamentarians -- 
in 2005, the Siniora cabinet obtained 92 out of 128 votes). 
 
REACTIONS 
--------- 
 
8. (C) The March 14 decision to nominate PM Siniora prompted 
swift reactions from the opposition.  Ali Hamdan, press 
advisor to Speaker Berri, said that the national unity 
government (NUG) was the second step in the Doha process, 
after the election of the president.  Hamdan said the 
selection of Siniora was the majority's choice, but added 
that the NUG was a partnership, and the opposition fully 
expected to have its fair share.  Shia MP Yassine Jabber, 
from Berri's parliamentary bloc, explained the bloc had cast 
blank votes because it was inappropriate for it to support 
Siniora since it did not have a good relationship with him 
over the last two years; however, the bloc was ready to 
participate in the new government. 
 
9. (C) Alain Aoun, member of General Aoun's Free Patriotic 
Movement (FPM), told us that the FPM was unhappy with 
Siniora's nomination for the premiership.  Aoun MP Ibrahim 
Kenaan also labeled Siniora's a negative signal; explaining 
that his bloc had hoped to "turn a new page" after the Doha 
conference, but instead the majority had selected the 
"American candidate."  Hamdan later joked that Michel Aoun 
himself was happy with the decision; if Aoun, who represented 
the majority of Lebanon's Christians, could not be president, 
then Hariri, who represented the majority of Lebanon's 
Sunnis, should not be prime minister. 
 
10. (C) Armenian opposition Tashnaq MP Hagop Pakradonian said 
that although Tashnaq disagrees with the majority's decision, 
it refrained from nominating an alternative candidate out of 
respect for March 14's decision.  Hizballah also refrained, 
with MP Mohamad Raad explaining that the Doha agreement 
stipulated that the prime minister would head a national 
unity government and should therefore represent the traits of 
national unity.  The Lebanese people are looking for a prime 
minister with a "positive attitude," he said. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
11. (C) The narrow margin in favor of Siniora this time 
around compared to 2005 reflects the deep divide between the 
majority (who all voted in favor) and the opposition (who all 
either abstained or voted for a different candidate). 
Siniora, leader of what the opposition claims was an 
"illegitimate" government following the resignation in 
November 2006 of six opposition ministers (including all five 
Shia), is loathed by the opposition, which does not view him 
as a "consensus" prime minister.  However, the Shia 
opposition, by refraining from nominating an alternative 
candidate, is playing along for the time being, most likely 
in hopes of extracting concessions in terms of cabinet 
portfolios. 
 
12. (C) The horse trading over portfolios is in full pursuit, 
and all bets are on and rumors abounding.  Laest thinking is 
that President Sleiman will keep Interior for himself, as 
well as possibly Defense.  March 14 is angling for Finance 
(the purse strings) and Justice (Special Tribunal), both of 
which are key objectives for Michel Aoun.  The wily Murrs 
would like Interior, which will play an important role in the 
run-up to the 2009 parliamentary elections, but at the same 
time would like to keep the younger Elias as Minister of 
Defense.  Foreign Affairs is largely ignored by most, and 
presumed to go to the Shia. 
 
13. (C) To complicate matters even more, there may not be a 
neat division of the six Sunni ministers for  the majority 
and the six Shia ministers for the opposition.  (Note: In the 
last Siniora government, all of the Sunni ministers were in 
 
BEIRUT 00000799  003 OF 003 
 
 
the majority, while all the Shia ministers were with the 
opposition.  End Note.) This time, March 14 may take an 
independent Shia (to avoid an entire confessional bloc from 
resigning as occurred in 2006), and in exchange March 8 will 
take a Sunni.  Other confessional distributions may also cut 
across majority/opposition lines.   We can only hope PM 
Siniora has a sophisticated computer program to sort this all 
out. 
 
14. (C) The only thing we can say for sure at this point is 
that we expect Round Two of the Doha agreement will be a 
lengthy process, and more contentious than the Round One 
election of President Sleiman.  If and when there is a new 
cabinet, Round Three will be even more bruising, as the 
opposing sides seek to reach agreement on the ministerial 
statement, and in particular the wording regarding 
Hizballah's arms.  Doha was but the beginning of what will be 
a long and difficult road to restoring political stability in 
Lebanon. End Comment. 
 
SISON

 



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