BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Aoun softens stance on rotation of portfolios

Sleiman meets Abu Faour as part of efforts to resolve the rotation problem.

BEIRUT: Progress in efforts to resolve Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s opposition to the rotation of key ministerial portfolios could pave the way for the formation of an all-embracing Cabinet soon, political sources said Wednesday.

Political sources close to the FPM told The Daily Star that Aoun has resigned himself to the inevitable rotation of key ministerial portfolios among sects.

The sources said that talks were ongoing to agree with Aoun on the ministerial portfolios his party would get in return for his cooperation.

Other sources in the FPM said that during a meeting this week between Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt and caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, the PSP leader explained that it would be difficult to violate the agreement reached on rotating ministerial portfolios.

Aoun complained that he had not been consulted on the deal for 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. The agreement also calls for rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects.

In a news conference Tuesday, Aoun said he would only accept the rotation of ministerial portfolios held by the FPM – the Energy Ministry and Telecommunications Ministry – in a Cabinet formed after new parliamentary elections, scheduled in November, were held.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said that Jumblatt had proposed the FPM could keep one of the two ministries it currently holds.

Another proposal is to have 30 ministers in the new Cabinet as demanded by Aoun. But the proposal is strongly opposed by Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reiterated his opposition to joining the government unless an agreement is reached prior to its formation to include the Baabda Declaration as the only political clause in the policy statement.

In an interview with Future TV, Geagea said that he opposed the Future Movement’s decision to discuss the content of the Cabinet policy statement with March 8 rivals after the formation of the government.

“We say that if the other group did not accept a compromise now, this indicates that it has no intention of reaching such a compromise [later],” the LF leader said. “I am even more convinced now that I should not join the government.”

Geagea said that if a government was formed based on the 8-8-8 lineup while Hezbollah continued to fight in Syria, then neither the security situation nor the economy would improve.

The LF leader said that the conflict with Hezbollah could not be contained inside a new Cabinet, as argued by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, adding that he would not join the government even if all other parties did.

Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, from the PSP, is set to hold meetings with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Salam in an effort to resolve the rotation problem with Aoun. He visited Sleiman and Berri Wednesday.

A source close to Sleiman said that immense efforts were being made in this regard.

“The atmosphere is positive and there are intensified contacts,” the source said. “It seems something will emerge soon.”

The source added that Sleiman would still form a neutral government if efforts to form an all-embracing Cabinet hit a dead end. Political sources familiar with the issue said that Aoun was outraged by the fact that he had been sidelined during the Cabinet deliberations.

The sources added that FPM cadres were upset with the way the FPM’s allies were dealing with the group.

The FPM, according to the sources, has stood beside its March 8 allies, particularly Hezbollah, at several critical junctures, but that the latter did not reciprocate this support.

The sources said Bassil had demanded that the Transport and Public Works Ministry along with the Health Ministry be allotted to the FPM in return for the Energy Ministry and the Telecommunications Ministry.

But the sources added that such demand was strongly opposed by Salam, who argued that according to the Constitution, the prime minister should choose the name of ministers and the portfolios allocated to them in consultation with the president.

Hariri’s Future parliamentary bloc reiterated that its decision to join a Cabinet with Hezbollah was based on a desire to contain the conflict with the party and serve the interests of the people by reviving state institutions.

It said it made its decision after Hezbollah dropped its demand for veto power and agreed on rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects.

In a statement after its weekly meeting, the bloc said it categorically opposed the inclusion of the “people, Army and Resistance” formula in the policy statement, saying the clause was used in the past to take over the state and its institutions, violate the Constitution, and form armed militias.

“It is necessary that the policy statement of the new government includes a clear recognition and commitment to all articles of the Baabda Declaration which was approved during the National Dialogue,” it said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 23, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Progress in efforts to resolve Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun's opposition to the rotation of key ministerial portfolios could pave the way for the formation of an all-embracing Cabinet soon, political sources said Wednesday.

Political sources close to the FPM told The Daily Star that Aoun has resigned himself to the inevitable rotation of key ministerial portfolios among sects.

The sources said that talks were ongoing to agree with Aoun on the ministerial portfolios his party would get in return for his cooperation.

Other sources in the FPM said that during a meeting this week between Progressive Socialist Party head Walid Jumblatt and caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun's son-in-law, the PSP leader explained that it would be difficult to violate the agreement reached on rotating ministerial portfolios.

In a news conference Tuesday, Aoun said he would only accept the rotation of ministerial portfolios held by the FPM – the Energy Ministry and Telecommunications Ministry – in a Cabinet formed after new parliamentary elections, scheduled in November, were held.


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