BEIRUT: This week promises to be crucial for the 10-month-old Cabinet crisis leading to the formation of either a national unity government, or a fait accompli Cabinet with all the dire consequences this entails, political sources said Monday.
The development comes as mediation attempts have so far failed to untangle the knot over the rotation of key ministerial portfolios among sects and parties in a national unity Cabinet, thus leaving President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam with two options: A neutral, nonpartisan government, or an all-embracing political government without the blessing of MP Michel Aoun.
It also comes amid renewed warnings by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition of the adverse effects of forming a fait accompli government – their term for a neutral or nonpartisan Cabinet envisaged by Sleiman and Salam – on the country’s security which is increasingly threatened by the fallout of the war in Syria.
“This week is decisive for the Cabinet formation. Although no breakthrough has been made in the problem of ministerial rotation, the window to explore a solution is not yet closed,” a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star.
“Strenuous efforts are still being made to untie the knot over the rotation of ministerial portfolios,” the source said.
He added that Hezbollah officials were still involved in last-minute mediation efforts to resolve the row over ministerial rotation in an all-embracing Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup.
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt reiterated his support for an all-embracing government. “We hope that [Cabinet] details would be released in the next hours or days so that we can go united to an all-embracing government,” Jumblatt told reporters after meeting Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi at the embassy’s building in Beirut. Roknabadi hosted a dinner for Jumblatt.
Noting that Lebanon was on the threshold of the presidential election, Jumblatt called for national solidarity, especially following the terrorist attacks that struck Beirut’s southern suburbs, the Iranian Embassy in Beirut and the northern city of Tripoli.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who has been shuttling between Sleiman, Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri in a bid to facilitate the birth of a new Cabinet, signaled that a fait accompli government could soon be formed after intensive efforts had failed to make Aoun, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, soften his opposition to the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
“Time is running out for the formation of a new Cabinet. President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam might be compelled to declare a caesarean birth of a new Cabinet,” Abu Faour, who belongs to Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
His term of a “caesarean birth” is a clear allusion to a fait accompli Cabinet, which Berri, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have repeatedly warned against.
The March 8 source renewed the coalition’s warning against forming a fait accompli government. Hezbollah has warned that such a government would plunge Lebanon into chaos.
“A fait accompli government will not help solve the political crisis. Rather, it will further complicate an already complex situation,” the source said. He added that Hezbollah was still interceding with its key Christian ally, Aoun, to help resolve the problem over ministerial rotation. MP Kamel Rifai from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said his party’s talks with Aoun had so far failed to produce tangible results in ending the rift over the ministerial rotation.
“ Hezbollah is holding serious consultations with MP Michel Aoun, but they did not reach any result,” Rifai told a local radio station. He warned against forming a fait accompli government.
“Such a government will be toppled in Parliament,” he said.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, discussed the ongoing contacts to form a new Cabinet by phone separately with Kataeb leader and former President Amine Gemayel and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea.
While Gemayel has said his party was ready to participate in a new Cabinet, Geagea has refused to join a Cabinet with Hezbollah because of the party’s military intervention in Syria.
The monthslong Cabinet crisis saw a major breakthrough earlier this month when ex-premier Saad Hariri said he was ready to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government to help stabilize Lebanon which is facing serious threats to its security and stability from the repercussions of the Syrian war.
While a deal over an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup was reached by Berri, Jumblatt and the Future Movement, the government formation has been stalled by Aoun’s opposition to the rotation of ministerial portfolios, which is upheld by Salam and backed by Sleiman and Berri.
Aoun apparently opposes the ministerial rotation because it will deprive him of two key portfolios: the Energy Ministry currently held by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, and the Telecoms Ministry held by Nicolas Sehnaoui, who also belongs to the FPM.
Aoun is adamant that Bassil retain the Energy Ministry in the new Cabinet, in addition to another sovereign ministerial portfolio to be allotted to his bloc. Bassil said the Energy Ministry was a strategic asset for Christians and ensured their role in the country.
Future MP Hadi Hobeish said Aoun’s conditions would lead to the formation of either an all-embracing fait accompli Cabinet, or a neutral fait accompli Cabinet.
He decried that the Cabinet formation was held up over Bassil’s demand for retaining the Energy Ministry.