BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai warned Tuesday that a fait accompli government would plunge Lebanon into further turmoil, as the Future Movement said the formation of a national unity Cabinet hinged on MP Michel Aoun’s agreement to the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
Rai’s warning and the Future Movement’s stance come as consultations to break the 10-month-old Cabinet stalemate have been suspended after mediation attempts failed to make Aoun drop his demand to retain the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, for his bloc.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said the Cabinet crisis marked time with no solution in sight, blaming the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for rejecting the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios among sects and parties in an all-embracing government based on an 8-8-8 lineup.
He denied media reports claiming that former Prime Minister Saad Hariri planned to unveil a new political initiative aimed at resolving the Cabinet crisis in his speech Friday on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“There are no new initiatives or proposals whatsoever. The problem in the Cabinet formation stems from the rejection of the March 8 [parties] and the FPM of the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios,” Siniora told The Daily Star.
He said the March 8 parties had initially agreed to the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios among sects and parties, a concept that has been insisted on by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam since he was appointed on April 6. The plan was also backed by President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri.
“A new Cabinet will not be formed as long as Gen. Aoun continues to reject the principle of [ministerial] rotation,” Siniora said. Given Aoun’s refusal to budge on the ministerial rotation, he said the chances of forming an all-embracing Cabinet stood at 50-50.
Siniora returned to Beirut along with Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq Tuesday after holding talks with Hariri in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
“The meeting [with Hariri] was part of the ongoing consultations on the Cabinet crisis and the situation in Lebanon,” he said.
Asked whether Salam would eventually form a fait accompli government if Aoun insisted on retaining the Energy Ministry for his bloc, Siniora said: “The Cabinet formation decision lies with the prime minister-designate and the president. It’s up to them to decide.”
Aoun’s opposition to rotating ministerial portfolios has stymied Salam’s attempts to form a Cabinet with an 8-8-8 lineup. The 8-8-8 proposal was part a compromise reached last month by the March 8 coalition, the Future Movement and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party in a bid to break the impasse. Aoun, after meeting Rai in Bkirki Sunday, had promised to talk about the Cabinet crisis Tuesday after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc. But he did not talk to reporters as he normally does every Tuesday. Instead, MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s bloc spoke to reporters, focusing mainly on the Bkirki’s National Charter announced by Rai last week, without touching on the issue of ministerial rotation.
For his part, the patriarch warned of the consequences of forming a fait accompli government.
“Over the past 10 months, I have been calling for forming a Cabinet today and not tomorrow. ... Just like all the Lebanese people, we want a government that won’t trigger a crisis or pose a challenge to anyone in Lebanon,” Rai told reporters before heading to the Vatican to take part in meetings of the Roman Catholic Church’s central governing body.
“It is inappropriate after 10 months and on the verge of electing a new president to spark a new crisis in the country.”
Rai said any Cabinet formed contrary to the Constitution and the National Pact on equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians would push the country to the “abyss” and spark new crises.
He added that it would be harmful for the dignity of the president and the premier-designate to form a Cabinet that would fail to win a vote of confidence from Parliament.
Aoun and March 8 parties have warned of the adverse effects of forming a fait accompli government on the country’s security and stability, which are already threatened by the repercussions of the three-year war in Syria.
Rai urged a speedy formation of a government that would set the stage for the presidential election in May: “We want a Cabinet that will not lead to any problem in Lebanon. We have enough crises and we must concentrate on the election of a new president.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea praised the National Charter unveiled by the Maronite Church last week.
“The Maronite bishops viewed that faith in the Lebanese entity is correlated with the belief in the establishment of a capable, productive state ... meaning there is no place for a resistance,” Geagea told a news conference in Maarab. “We are now facing two state projects: Bkirki’s project and the project of Hezbollah’s ministate.”