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Lebanon News

From one stumbling block to another

File - FPM leader Michel Aoun speaks during a press conference in Rabieh, Friday, July 26, 2013. (The Daily Star/Charbel Nakhoul, HO)

Hezbollah indirectly contacted MP Michel Aoun through mediators Saturday afternoon to discuss efforts to form the new Cabinet and which ministerial portfolios the FPM leader would want in order for his party to join, according to MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement. Speaking on condition of anonymity Sunday, the sources said indirect negotiations were not a proper democratic practice.

The sources said that Prime Minister-designate Tamam Salam had only contacted Aoun once, which was when he met him after he was nominated last April.

The sources noted that if Salam believed that this meeting with Aoun was enough and that his powers did not oblige him to continue to directly contact major political groups in the country, then this would hinder the formation of the new Cabinet.

The sources explained that while Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc was eager to have a new Cabinet as soon as possible, it had several conditions it believed should be met.

Aoun, the sources continued, believed that ministerial portfolios should be distributed to political parties based on how many representatives they had in Parliament. For example, key portfolios reserved for Christians should go to representative Christian parties, the sources said.

The sources added that Salam and March 8 parties should directly contact Aoun and his party rather than use mediators during Cabinet deliberations.

Aoun believes that Christians should be properly represented in the Cabinet. The sources said that if an agreement were reached to rotate the four key ministerial portfolios – finance, defense, foreign and interior – among sects, then Aoun wants a Change and Reform parliamentary bloc MP to fill the Maronite-allotted post.

The same sources said the FPM would no longer concede some of the key portfolios to President Michel Sleiman as it did before. They said that while this had happened in the past because Sleiman occupied the top Maronite post in the country, this would no longer be the case after his term expires in less than four months.

In the event that no successor for Sleiman is elected, the sources continued, the new government would assume the president’s powers. They said this meant that the new Cabinet should provide proper representation for Christian parties based on their size in the legislature.

The sources said Aoun would oppose any formula he thought did not fairly represent Christians.

Aoun and his allies are discussing exchanging the Energy and the Telecommunication ministries, both currently held by his bloc, with the Finance and Defense ministries. But the sources said the issue had yet to be discussed with March 14 rivals and MP Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party.

The sources added that Hezbollah and Amal would not participate in any government in which the FPM was not represented. They said that with some time, a fair distribution of ministerial portfolios could be arranged, particularly amid international and regional pressure on Lebanon to have an all-embracing government.

The sources said that much more difficult obstacles that had prevented the establishment of a national unity Cabinet had already been removed.

Although the March 14 coalition has gone back on its call for reaching an agreement on the Cabinet’s policy statement prior to its formation, the sources said they believed the alliance would still insist on having a clear text demanding that all parties adhere to the Baabda Declaration and oppose the “Army, people and resistance” formula of previous governments.

Speaker Nabih Berri has reportedly proposed including a vague statement in the policy statement endorsing the Baabda Declaration as well as the content of all previous policy statements.

This means, the sources said, that even if the thorny issue of distributing ministerial portfolios were resolved, a disagreement between Cabinet parties could emerge over its policy statement.

The sources said it was possible that the new government would become a caretaker government if it did not finalize its policy statement within 30 days, which is the deadline set by the Constitution.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 20, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Hezbollah indirectly contacted MP Michel Aoun through mediators Saturday afternoon to discuss efforts to form the new Cabinet and which ministerial portfolios the FPM leader would want in order for his party to join, according to MPs from the Free Patriotic Movement.

The sources explained that while Aoun's Change and Reform parliamentary bloc was eager to have a new Cabinet as soon as possible, it had several conditions it believed should be met.

For example, key portfolios reserved for Christians should go to representative Christian parties, the sources said.

The sources added that Salam and March 8 parties should directly contact Aoun and his party rather than use mediators during Cabinet deliberations.

Aoun believes that Christians should be properly represented in the Cabinet.


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