BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun’s opposition to the rotation of key ministerial portfolios is impeding Tammam Salam’s efforts to form a new government following a major breakthrough in the 10-month Cabinet stalemate, sources close to the premier-designate said Tuesday.
Aoun’s stance, which was conveyed to Salam by caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil Monday, dampens optimism voiced by President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri, who said they expected a new Cabinet to be formed this week after major hurdles were overcome.
A source close to Salam confirmed that the Cabinet formation was held up mainly by the row over the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
“Efforts are ongoing to end the rift over the rotation of ministerial portfolios,” the source told The Daily Star, declining to set a date on the birth of the government.
The source said Bassil’s meeting with Salam to iron out differences over the rotation of ministerial portfolios did not yield positive results.
“Bassil demanded that [Aoun’s bloc] retain the Energy and Telecommunications ministries in the new Cabinet. But Salam stood firm on a comprehensive, just and balanced rotation of ministerial portfolios.”
Aoun said he would accept the rotation of ministerial portfolios held by his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc in a Cabinet only after new parliamentary elections, scheduled in November, are held.
“We can make a lot of sacrifices but not at the expense of the people we represent. We can make concessions without eliminating ... our presence and role,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
“While we reject the principle of holding on to any ministerial position by any sect or any party permanently, a rotation [of portfolios] is acceptable at the start of a new parliamentary mandate within an actual equality [of parliamentary seats between Christians and Muslims],” he said.
Sources at Baabda Palace said Sleiman was determined to form a Cabinet before the end of February, including representatives of Aoun’s bloc with portfolios chosen for them by the president and Salam.
If Aoun’s ministers resign after the Cabinet formation decree is issued, they would be replaced, the sources said, ruling out the Hezbollah-Amal Movement’s solidarity with Aoun.
But FPM sources said such an adventure would topple the Cabinet even if the two Shiite parties did not support Aoun, because the absence of Aoun, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and probably the Kataeb Party would make the Cabinet lose its constitutionality.
Aoun pledged not to abandon his campaign for securing “true Christian representation” in the Cabinet.
“The Cabinet is the executive authority in which the sects are represented on the basis of the [National] Pact. We cannot waiver over true Christian representation in terms of the number and kind of ministerial portfolios, whether these are sovereign, public services or secondary portfolios,” Aoun said. He added that each party had the right to name its own ministers in the Cabinet.
Aoun complained that he had not been consulted on a deal over an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup reached between the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, the Future Movement and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.
“There are abnormal matters happening in Cabinet’s formation. Since the  polls till now, the first grave violation was the extension of Parliament’s mandate, the obstruction of the Constitutional Council and the extension of the terms of senior state employees,” he said.
“Today, in the same pattern, the National Pact is being breached with the Cabinet formation. We have not been consulted and so far we do not know the names [of the new ministers],” he added.
However, Aoun said he was happy with the Cabinet formula reached to represent all the political parties. “We have accepted the [8-8-8] formula despite the injustice inflicted on our bloc. We see that the next government, coupled with the positive stances, can establish a new stage of dialogue and understandings with the aim of securing stability,” he said.“The new government can also pave the way for the presidential election, which must bring a strong Christian president,” Aoun added.
The 10-month-old Cabinet deadlock witnessed a major breakthrough last week when former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he was willing to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government in order to safeguard Lebanon as it faces mounting threats to its security from the war in Syria.
Although the Cabinet formation efforts were overshadowed Tuesday by a bombing that killed at least four people in the southern suburb of Haret Hreik, Sleiman remained upbeat that a government would be formed soon.
“There are good signs that a new Cabinet [will be formed]. We hope to continue with these signs to the end after we canceled the idea of a blocking third [veto power]. It is inappropriate to talk about a blocking third in a democratic country,” Sleiman said during the annual reception for members of the consular corps at Baabda Palace on the occasion of the New Year. – Additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis