Lebanon News

Hopes for imminent new government dashed

File - Prime Minister Tammam Salam, right, meets with FPM leader Michel Aoun at the Parliament in Beirut, Tuesday, April 9, 2013. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: All signs indicate that an all-embracing political government will not be formed soon given the unresolved row over the rotation of key ministerial portfolios, political sources said Monday.

“No government will be formed in the next few days because of continued differences over the rotation of ministerial portfolios,” a source familiar with the negotiations told The Daily Star.

“Contacts on the Cabinet formation have come to a halt in the absence of new proposals to break the monthslong deadlock.”

He added that Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun’s opposition to the ministerial rotation was behind the delay in announcing an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup.

The source ruled out the formation of a fait accompli government for now, saying this option would further complicate an already complex situation.

Aoun has refused to yield on his opposition to the concept of rotating ministerial portfolios in an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup. The 8-8-8 proposal was part a compromise reached last month by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, the Future Movement, and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party in a bid to break the 10-month Cabinet stalemate.

Sources in Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said that the FPM leader’s decision to reject the principle of ministerial rotation and his insistence that his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, retain the Energy Ministry were irreversible.

“Gen. Aoun is unlikely to drop this demand [for the energy portfolio]. If this demand is met, all other matters, including the rotation of the Telecommunications Ministry, are negotiable,” one source in the bloc said.

They said that Aoun would touch at his news conference Tuesday on the National Pact’s principles, which do not allow decisions on the Cabinet formation to be taken without the knowledge of a large political party in the country.

The sources dismissed threats by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to form a fait accompli government if Aoun stuck to his objection to the ministerial rotation, saying they were not serious.

“[Aoun’s] bloc is firmly convinced that [Marada Movement leader] MP Suleiman Franjieh, the Tashnag Party, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will withdraw their ministers [from a fait accompli government] in a show of solidarity with Gen. Aoun,” the source said, adding that Jumblatt would do the same not out of solidarity with Aoun but because the PSP chief had pledged to Speaker Nabih Berri that he would not participate in any Cabinet if the speaker were out of it.According to the sources, the circumstances that led former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to accept sharing power with Hezbollah and the March 8 alliance to accept the 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup and drop the 9-9-6 proposal would prompt the parties concerned with the formation process to exclude the Energy Ministry from the ministerial rotation.

Despite fiery rhetoric by some March 14 figures against Aoun and President Michel Sleiman’s indirect criticism of the FPM leader over his rejection of the rotation principle, the Change and Reform bloc is convinced that the energy portfolio will eventually be allotted to it.

Sources close to Salam said no breakthrough had so far been made to announce the new Cabinet.

“There is nothing pointing to a quick birth of the Cabinet. But eventually, we will try to form a Cabinet with the least possible damage,” a source close to Salam said.

Hezbollah’s mediation efforts have failed to make Aoun drop his demand for retaining the Energy Ministry to his bloc. Salam has rejected Aoun’s demand in line with the principle of rotating portfolios among sects and parties he has adopted since he was appointed premier-designate on April 6.

Given Aoun’s unyielding stance, Salam is left with the option to go ahead forming an all-embracing political government without the FPM leader’s approval. However, Aoun and March 8 parties have warned of the consequences of forming a fait accompli government.

Sleiman indirectly criticized Aoun over his rejection of the ministerial rotation, saying the delay in the formation of a new Cabinet was shameful.

“The formation of a Cabinet has become essential. Is insisting on a minister, a condition, or on a ministerial portfolio more important than Lebanon?” Sleiman tweeted.

“We have to prove that we can build a state, form governments, elect presidents and Parliaments and avoid extending [Parliament’s mandate],” he added. “The delay in the Cabinet formation has become shameful.”

Referring to the presidential election scheduled in May, Sleiman, whose six-year term in office expires on May 25, said: “The constitutional deadlines must be met and implemented because citizens are reeling under fear, killings, terrorism, hunger and the economic situation.”

He called for supplying the Lebanese Army with advanced weapons to confront “Israeli attacks.”

Future lawmakers accused Hezbollah of reneging on the 8-8-8 Cabinet deal by resorting to excuses and enlisting its March 8 allies to scuttle the birth of a new Cabinet.

“When a solution on the Energy Ministry began to emerge, they [Hezbollah] came up with the issue of the security portfolios and when names were proposed they started using vetoes,” Future MP Ahmad Fatfat told a local television station. “What right do Aoun and Hezbollah think they have to object to names put forward by the Future Movement?”

Future MP Mohammad Hajjar alleged Hezbollah was obstructing the Cabinet formation, reflecting what he said was a pattern of reneging on agreements by the party. “We are fully ready to facilitate the Cabinet formation ... but we are still revolving in a vicious circle because of Hezbollah’s backtracking on previous agreements and commitments,” Hajjar told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2014, on page 1.




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