Cabinet convenes for final time before presidential vote

BEIRUT: The Cabinet convened for the final time ahead of a presidential vote that will see Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founder MP Michel Aoun take office after nearly three years of vacuum in the country’s top post.

Upon assuming office, Aoun, in line with the constitution, will issue the Cabinet’s resignation decree and launch binding parliamentary consultations that will almost certainly lead to the designation of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri as prime minister. Aoun and Hariri will then consult with Lebanon’s major political factions before issuing the new Cabinet formation decree, which requires the signatures of both the president and prime minister.

FPM President and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who was a key player in the negotiations that led Hariri to endorse Aoun as his presidential nominee, attended the Cabinet session for the first time since late August.

Before the agreement between Aoun and Hariri was struck, Bassil had boycotted the Cabinet to protest what the FPM dubbed then as “the marginalization of Christians in key positions within the government.”

The Cabinet session, according to Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, was “very productive.” The Cabinet tasked the Reconstruction and Development Council to acquire land to kickstart the construction of the Jal El-Dib Bridge.

Azzi, however, said the Cabinet failed to agree on a proposal put forward by the Telecom Ministry to renew the contracts of the country’s two mobile operators Zain and Orascom.

Kuwait-based Zain and Egypt-based Orascom manage the two state-owned telecom companies Touch and Alfa, respectively.

The telecom companies generate close to $2 billion a year in revenues. The Cabinet last extended the contracts of mobile operators on December 31, 2015.

“There was no agreement on the item related to the mobile operators, and it seems that this issue will be the responsibility of the newly formed government,” Azzi told reporters following the session.on.