BEIRUT: Premier-designate Tammam Salam, facing a possible boycott by MP Michel Aoun, scrambled Tuesday to secure sufficient Christian representation by seeking to encourage the Kataeb Party and Marada Movement into joining a national unity government, a senior March 8 source said.
The development comes as Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, refused to yield on his opposition to the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios in an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup.
But a senior political source told The Daily Star that while the Cabinet lineup has been finalized Tuesday evening, Salam would not reveal the makeup of his 24-member government before Maronite Bishops – expected to hold their monthly meeting Wednesday – voice their stance regarding the Cabinet formation process.
The source said Salam was waiting to see what the bishops have to say about the thorny issues of the rotation of ministerial portfolios, Christian representation within the new Cabinet and the possibility of announcing a fait accompli Cabinet in the event concerned parties stood firm on their demands.
Mediation efforts, exerted mainly by Hezbollah with the FPM, have failed to make Aoun drop his demand for retaining the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to his bloc.
As a result, Aoun’s unyielding stance has left Salam only with the choice of proceeding with forming an all-embracing political government even without the FPM leader’s approval.
“Efforts are underway to secure Christian representation according to the National Pact [on power sharing among sects] if Aoun decides to withdraw his ministers from the new Cabinet and Hezbollah does the same in a show of solidarity,” the March 8 source told The Daily Star.
“Salam is trying to lure former President Amine Gemayel’s Kataeb Party and MP Suleiman Franjieh’s Marada Movement into joining his Cabinet by offering them important ministerial portfolios,” the senior source said.
If Aoun and Hezbollah decide to withdraw their ministers from the 8-8-8 Cabinet, the source added, Speaker Nabih Berri would not necessarily do the same, especially if sufficient Christian representation was secured.
“But Berri will definitely pull out his ministers if he finds that the Cabinet lacks adequate Christian representation as stipulated by the National Pact,” the source added.
March 14 sources said Berri’s stance on the issue of the ministerial rotation and allotting the Defense and Interior ministries to the March 14 coalition was still unclear.
Berri is inclined to oppose this matter in a show of solidarity with Hezbollah, whose sources said the party would not accept that these two key portfolios go to the Future Movement, a March 14 source said.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt will support Berri in any stance he takes once the decrees of a fait accompli government are issued, a political source said.
A source close to Aoun said his caretaker ministers will not hand over their ministries to ministers in the new Cabinet.
In a fresh escalation of his stance on the Cabinet crisis, Aoun lashed out at Salam, accusing him of obstructing the government formation with his insistence on the rotation of ministerial portfolios. He also warned Salam against violating the National Pact on equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians.
Speaking at a news conference after chairing the weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, Aoun did not appear to budge on his rejection of the concept of rotating ministerial portfolios among sects and political parties, upheld by Salam since he was appointed on April 6.
“The danger in the Cabinet formation process comes as a result of incomplete consultations that eliminated the presence of the main Christian parliamentary bloc,” Aoun said in a clear reference to his bloc.
“When we objected to this deliberate mistake, it became clear to us that the agreement [to form an 8-8-8 Cabinet] was made between certain state officials and the prime minister-designate and we had no choice but to accept what had been reached,” he added.The 8-8-8 Cabinet proposal was a compromise reached last month by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, the Future Movement and the PSP in a bid to break the 10-month-old government stalemate. The concept of rotating portfolios among sects and parties, proposed by Salam and backed by President Michel Sleiman, was part of that deal.
He argued that Salam adopted the principle of ministerial rotation after it was demanded by his political party, the Future Movement.
“[Salam] abstained from directly communicating with the parliamentary blocs concerned with the all-embracing government,” Aoun said. “Therefore, it is obvious that the one who is placing obstacles is the one violating the National Pact, the Constitution and norms.”
Apparently referring to his bloc and that of his ally, Hezbollah, Aoun warned against forming a fait accompli government if it is “rejected by major parliamentary blocs that represent the components of this nation with the criteria of parliamentary and popular representation.”
“Such a government would contradict the coexistence charter and would be illegitimate,” he said.
Reading from a prepared statement, Aoun warned against violating the National Pact on the country’s power-sharing system. “Beware of messing with national principles at this extremely dangerous and sensitive juncture in the life of our one Lebanese nation,” he said.
Aoun has rejected Salam’s eleventh-hour offer to reserve two key ministerial portfolios to the FPM in exchange for abandoning the Energy Ministry.
Salam’s take-it-or-leave-it offer proposes that in addition to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, either the Education or Public Works Ministry be allotted to the FPM in exchange for Aoun giving up the Energy portfolio. – Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis