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Salam poised to form fait accompli government after talks fail

Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, right, receives U.S. ambassador to Lebanon David Hale in Beirut, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam intends to form a fait accompli government after intensive efforts failed to resolve the row over the rotation of key ministerial portfolios in a national unity Cabinet, political sources said Friday.

However, the sources said behind-the-scene contacts were still ongoing in a last-ditch attempt to reach an agreement over such a Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, warned against attempts to exclude MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement from the new Cabinet.

“If an agreement is not reached in the next couple of days over the proposed 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, Salam is poised to form a fait accompli government, most likely a nonpartisan government,” a senior political source told The Daily Star.

The source said there was “a slim chance” the ongoing consultations between Salam and the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition would soften Aoun’s stance on rotating key ministerial portfolios.

Aoun opposes the idea of a ministerial rotation, which is upheld by Salam and backed by President Michel Sleiman, because it will 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 also belongs to the FPM.

Aoun has demanded that Bassil retain the Energy Ministry in the new Cabinet, in addition to another sovereign ministerial portfolio to be allotted to his bloc.

Salam, who has adopted the principle of the rotation of ministerial portfolios among parties and sects since he was appointed prime minister-designate in April, has strongly rejected Aoun’s demand.

Aoun’s stance has stymied mediation efforts on the Cabinet formation exerted mainly by Hezbollah, caretaker Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc, and caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who belongs to MP Walid Jumblatt’s centrist bloc.

Abu Faour met Salam Friday in the latest bid to end the rift over the rotation of ministerial portfolios. Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, also met Salam for the same purpose Thursday.

A source close to Salam said consultations to overcome the last remaining hurdle posed by Aoun’s rejection of a ministerial rotation were still ongoing.

But FPM sources denied that any negotiations were being held to clinch a deal over a national unity Cabinet.

Because the negotiations have reached a dead end, the sources said they expected the new Cabinet decrees to be issued by the president would give Aoun a considerable share of ministerial portfolios as promised by Sleiman and Salam.

The sources said they could not predict how Aoun’s allies, namely Berri, Hezbollah, the Marada Movement and the Tashnag Party, would react if the FPM leader decided to withdraw his ministers from the new Cabinet.

Berri, Hezbollah and March 8 politicians have repeatedly warned Sleiman and Salam of the dire consequences of forming a fait accompli government – their term for a neutral or nonpartisan Cabinet – on the country’s security and stability, already threatened by the repercussions of the war in Syria.

Salam was reported to have given the March 8 coalition a Sunday deadline to accept his proposed 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup, or else he would form a fait accompli government.

MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, warned against attempts to exclude Aoun’s bloc from the new Cabinet. He also warned against forming a fait accompli government.

“We must not rush matters in the Cabinet formation. Excluding a major component from the Cabinet at this stage, especially since it attains a heavy representation for the Christians, will cast doubts about the constitutionality of the Cabinet,” Raad told a memorial ceremony in the southern town of Ghaziyeh, in a clear reference to Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.

“Therefore, we must give ourselves a chance to exert sincere efforts in order to accommodate everyone [in the Cabinet] and reach agreement with everyone,” he said.

“We don’t want a neutral, illusive government. We see no benefit from a so-called fait accompli government,” Raad said.

“We stress the need for an all-embracing political government because we feel the danger of disintegration awaiting us at the hands of terrorists and takfiris,” he added.

He was referring to the wave of car bombings and suicide attacks that struck Hezbollah’s areas in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Bekaa Valley by Al-Qaeda-linked groups in response to the party’s military intervention in Syria.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem also urged Salam to form an “effective” national unity Cabinet, saying such a Cabinet was in Lebanon’s interests. He also called on the feuding parties to close ranks to resolve the deepening political crisis and confront the deteriorating security situation in the country.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 25, 2014, on page 1.

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