BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam looks set to announce early this week an all-embracing Cabinet after MP Michel Aoun’s rejection of his eleventh-hour offer to reserve two key ministerial portfolios to the Free Patriotic Movement in exchange for abandoning the Energy Ministry, a senior political source said Sunday.
“Salam presented Aoun with a take-it-or-leave-it offer, proposing in addition to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Education or Public Works Ministry be allotted to the FPM in exchange for Aoun giving up the Energy portfolio” the source told The Daily Star.
“But Gen. Aoun has rejected the offer outright,” the source said.
Despite rejection, a source close to the FPM said Aoun would make a counterproposal to Salam soon.
The decision to go ahead with announcing a Cabinet even without Aoun’s approval was apparently taken after Salam held an unexpected meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter’s residence Sunday night.
A national unity Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup is deemed crucial to cope with a deteriorating security situation, including the wave of car bombings and suicide attacks that has rattled Lebanon recently, threatening to plunge the country deeper into the turmoil in Syria.
Salam has adopted the principle of the rotation of ministerial portfolios among sects and political parties since he was named prime minister-designate on April 6, a plan backed by President Michel Sleiman.
The concept of rotating ministerial portfolios was part of an 8-8-8 Cabinet deal reached by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, the Future Movement and MP Walid Jumblatt.
If Salam goes ahead with forming an all-embracing political government based on an 8-8-8 lineup without the approval of Aoun, this risks the possibility of the FPM leader withdrawing his ministers from the Cabinet. Ministers of his ally Hezbollah could also quit the government.
With the Lebanese Forces’ decision not to join an all-embracing Cabinet with Hezbollah, an FPM walkout would present a problem of Christian representation, even though the Kataeb Party has said it would participate. It also risks it failing to gain a vote of confidence from Parliament.
Salam made the offer in separate meetings with caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, in the latest attempt to untangle the knot over Aoun’s opposition to the rotation of key ministerial portfolios.
During his meeting with Bassil and Khalil, Salam offered to distribute the four sovereign ministerial portfolios – Interior, Defense, Finance and Foreign Affairs – equally between the rival March 8 and March 14 camps. Salam proposed that the Finance and Foreign Affairs ministries be allotted to the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, while the Interior and Defense ministries be reserved for the March 14 coalition.
Salam spoke Saturday by phone with Aoun, who had complained that the premier-designate did not consult with him on the Cabinet formation efforts.
Salam, under growing local and foreign pressure to form a Cabinet, said the unstable security situation underlined the urgency of a new government.
“The security situation demands a government [be formed] today not tomorrow,” Salam told Al-Manar TV.
He said efforts to form a new Cabinet were ongoing. “Anyone who says that Salam did not act to narrow differences is wrong,” he added.
Earlier Sunday, a source close to Salam said some progress had been made in the eleventh-hour negotiations to resolve the row over the rotation of key ministerial portfolios, the last remaining hurdle that has held up the formation of a national unity Cabinet.
Ex-premier Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, discussed the Cabinet formation efforts with Sleiman Saturday. He reiterated the Future Movement’s insistence on rotating ministerial portfolios in a new Cabinet.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai criticized politicians who insist on retaining certain ministerial portfolios.
While condemning Saturday’s suicide bombing in the northeastern city of Hermel that killed four people, including the bomber, Rai blamed the rival political parties, who he said were blocking the formation of a new Cabinet, for the wave of car bombings that struck Lebanon recently.
“Once again, we hold the political parties responsible for all these crimes because they do not acknowledge that the state is [meant] to serve the citizens and that its constitutional institutions are [meant] to serve the citizens and are not for [politicians] to dominate these institutions,” Rai said in a sermon after leading Sunday’s Mass in Bkirki.
“We hold responsible all those who reject reconciliation and understanding and all those who are obstructing the formation of a new government, whose aim is [to serve] human beings, rather than [sharing] ministerial portfolios, and are threatening or planning for a presidential vacuum,” he added.
Aoun and the March 8 coalition have warned of dire consequences of forming a fait accompli government on the country’s security, which is increasingly threatened by the repercussions of the nearly three-year war in Syria.
The FPM leader has escalated his stance in the past few days, insisting on retaining the Energy Ministry for Bassil, while calling on Salam to step aside after failing in 10 months to form a new Cabinet.
Aoun contends that the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios aims only at stripping his bloc of the Energy Ministry, which Bassil considers as a “guarantee” for the Christians.
Salam has chosen Dany Qabbani, a lawyer close to the premier-designate, for the post of the energy minister.