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Lebanon News

Salam, Aoun spar over ministerial portfolios

President Michel Sleiman, left, receives Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam at the Presidential Palace in Beirut, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Baabda)

BEIRUT: A tug-of-war over key ministerial portfolios is threatening to delay the formation of a new government, political sources said Sunday, as Hezbollah welcomed former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s new stance on the Cabinet crisis.

Also, an escalating row between the March 8 and March 14 camps over the policy statement appears to be impeding the Cabinet formation widely expected this week.

MP Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, was reported to be opposing the rotation of ministerial portfolios based on party and sect in the new Cabinet lineup because this would deprive him of two key portfolios: the Energy Ministry currently held by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil and the Telecommunications Ministry held by Nicolas Sehnaoui, who belongs to the FPM.

Aoun’s stance puts him at odds with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, who has called for the rotation of all ministerial portfolios among parties and sects since he was appointed in April.

It also puts Aoun on a different wavelength than Speaker Nabih Berri, who has said he supported the rotation of ministerial portfolios so long as it entailed equality between sects and parties.

Apparently responding to attempts to rotate ministerial portfolios, Bassil said Sunday that the Christians should be represented by key portfolios in the new Cabinet.

“We are present with our Christianity and patriotism in Lebanon. Our presence is reflected in the equality in Parliament, a strong president in the presidency and a correct representation in the government,” Bassil said at a foundation stone-laying ceremony for a solar energy plant project in the Nahr Beirut area.

“We must be present and represented by sovereign, [public] service and ordinary portfolios. Our role will be on this basis,” he said, adding: “Our role and presence are concomitant, and our Christian spirit is the spirit of harmony and accord which no one can stifle.”

In another speech Saturday, Bassil praised Hariri’s readiness to join a Cabinet with Hezbollah, saying this could pave the way for national understandings in the country.

“We are in need for national understanding between us and the Future Movement, between the Future Movement and Hezbollah. Such understandings complete one another and do not isolate anybody,” Bassil said.

In an interview with Reuters in The Hague Friday, Hariri said he was ready to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government to help stabilize Lebanon as it faces growing threats to its security from the war raging in Syria.

Hariri’s remarks are expected to seal a political deal on an all-embracing Cabinet based on 8-8-8 lineup that would break the 10-month government deadlock.

The deal, suggested by Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, will most likely involve Hariri’s Future Movement, the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and Jumblatt’s bloc.

Hezbollah also welcomed Hariri’s remarks but said the policy statement needed to be addressed after the Cabinet formation not before as demanded by the March 14 coalition.

“We do not want to discuss now the contents and details of the policy statement because our convictions cannot be shaken by thunder. Perhaps, they [March 14] uphold their convictions which they want to put forward during the discussions of the policy statement,” MP Mohammad Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said at a memorial ceremony in south Lebanon.

Commenting on Hariri’s readiness to join a Cabinet with Hezbollah, he said Hezbollah and its allies were open to any initiative to solve the deepening political crisis.“But this requires concessions from both sides. We will make concessions in a way that will not affect our strategy and option,” Raad added.

Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi also praised Hariri’s stance: “We will meet a positive approach positively. We will reply in kind because we are keen on preserving the unity of our country to confront challenges.”

While Berri and the March 8 parties want the policy statement to be discussed after the Cabinet formation, the March 14 coalition insists that agreement on the blueprint be reached before the formation.

Also, the March 14 coalition demands that the Baabda Declaration replaces Hezbollah’s tripartite equation: “The Army, the people and the resistance” in the Cabinet’s policy statement.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who opposes an all-embracing government that includes Hezbollah, renewed his call for dropping the tripartite equation and replacing it with the Baabda Declaration.

“Any Cabinet that will be formed should be backed by political consensus of March 14 and should have a prior and clear formulation of the policy statement,” Geagea said Saturday. He said his party would not join any Cabinet that did not adopt the Baabda Declaration in its policy statement

Former President Amine Gemayel called for an all-embracing government capable of meeting political and security challenges in the country.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 20, 2014, on page 1.

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