BEIRUT: The six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs Saturday withdrew support for the candidate widely anticipated to represent them in the upcoming Cabinet, dragging consultations on the issue back to square one and snuffing out chances of a government being formed this weekend.
The MPs, who call themselves the “Consultative Gathering,” said they had reached the decision because “Jawad Adra does not consider himself a representative of the group.”
The statement was read out by one of the MPs, Jihad al-Samad, during an evening news conference after the group held an hourslong meeting to discuss their position on Adra, the founder of consulting firm Information International, amid uncertainty over his allegiance to them.
“We contacted [Adra] earlier, requesting that he represents the gathering exclusively, but he said he needed time,” Samad said. “Therefore, the gathering has decided to withdraw its nomination of Adra to represent the gathering in the government.”
LBCI reported after the news conference that the group has demanded that their representative be drawn from the rest of the candidates on the list they had previously presented to President Michel Aoun.
Now, with Adra eliminated, the remaining candidates reportedly include Taha Naji, who ran an unsuccessful bid in May on Ahbash’s list to represent Tripoli in Parliament; Othman Majzoub, an adviser to Faisal Karam, one of the pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs; and Hasan Abdel-Rahim Mrad, the son of Abdel-Rahim Mrad, another one of the six.
Two of the six Sunni MPs from outside the Future Movement told The Daily Star earlier that they were adamant about having a minister that exclusively represents them, and that it appeared that Adra would have preferred to instead be independent as a minister.
“The representative of the gathering must exclusively represent it. ... How can a minister represent us while they belong to the [Free Patriotic Movement’s] Strong Lebanon bloc or the president’s?” Karami later said in televised remarks.
Political sources told The Daily Star that FPM leader Gebran Bassil wanted the six MPs to be represented by a minister close to his party so that the FPM and Aoun can “maintain having the vetoing third,” meaning control of 11 ministers in a 30-member Cabinet.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri meanwhile met to discuss the distribution of ministerial portfolios at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh’s residence.
Bassil and Aoun held their own meeting aimed at resolving the last-minute reshuffle in the allocation of portfolios.
Debates over the Culture and Information ministries were the highlight of both discussions, sources told The Daily Star.
Aoun also received General Security head Abbas Ibrahim, whom the president recently tasked to spearhead his initiative to break the government formation deadlock.
Ibrahim later told Al-Manar TV that his “mission was over, and the ball now is in the court of the political parties.”
Hariri was set to meet Aoun at Baabda Palace at 6 p.m. on the sidelines of a Christmas celebration, but the prime minister-designate did not attend. LBCI reported that Hariri had apologized for having "other engagements."
The six MPs’ decision to ultimately reject Adra came after a day of speculation and confusion over where they stood and whether the government still had a chance of coming together before Christmas as top officials had projected.
Karami and Samad held a morning meeting with Adra, with local media reporting that they had failed to get Adra’s approval to represent solely the group’s interests.
Local media had also reported early on that Mrad said Adra no longer represented the group, and when asked to comment on the reports, Karami told reporters that he supported Mrad’s position. However, soon after, Al-Manar TV reported that Mrad had denied that he had renounced Adra yet.
Mrad told Voice of Lebanon (93.3) earlier in the day that Adra should announce his allegiance to the group, or they would "name someone else.”
Reports had also leaked in the morning that MP Qassem Hashem, after initially throwing his support behind Adra, was ready to withdraw his backing if Adra refused to fully represent the group.
Nevertheless, in remarks to Radio Free Lebanon, Hashem denied that he and his fellow pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs were responsible for hindering the government formation. “What happened was an issue of portfolio distribution, which means the lineup was not entirely ready,” Hashem said.