BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is expected to meet President Michel Sleiman in the next 48 hours to decide the fate of a new Cabinet after mediation attempts to agree on a national unity government failed to clinch a deal, political sources said Tuesday.
“Sleiman and Salam are expected to meet soon to take an appropriate decision on the Cabinet crisis after matters have reached a dead end,” a source close to the premier-designate told The Daily Star.
The planned Sleiman-Salam meeting, deemed crucial to ending the 10-month-old Cabinet deadlock, comes shortly after Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun warned the two leaders against forming a fait accompli government, closing the door to the formation of an all-embracing Cabinet, unless his bloc retains the Energy Ministry, currently held by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil.
In an escalation of his stance, Aoun urged Salam to step aside, saying the premier-designate had failed in 10 months to form a new Cabinet.
Commenting on Aoun’s stance, a political source said the FPM leader had blocked the way for consensus on an all-embracing Cabinet.
“Although Aoun’s stance was not surprising, he has closed the door to a comprehensive consensus on the government,” the source told The Daily Star.
“The ball is now in the prime minister-designate’s court and behind him President Sleiman’s court,” the source added.
Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour met separately with Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri in the latest attempt to resolve the row over the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
Speaking to a local TV station, Abu Faour, who belongs to MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, described his meeting with Salam as “positive.”
The lawmaker denied that Salam has set one or two days before announcing a fait accompli government in the form of a neutral or all-embracing Cabinet.
Abu Faour, who was involved in the mediation attempts to facilitate the birth of a new Cabinet, said Monday a fait accompli government could soon be formed after intensive efforts failed to make Aoun budge on his opposition to the rotation of ministerial portfolios.
Aoun took a tough stance on the Cabinet crisis Tuesday, accusing Salam of violating the Constitution with his threat to form a fait accompli government. He called on Salam to step down after failing to form a new Cabinet since he was appointed on April 6.
“The pinnacle of violations with which the official [Salam] is threatening the Lebanese people is the formation of a fait accompli government,” Aoun told reporters after chairing a weekly meeting of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc at his residence in Rabieh, north of Beirut.
“He [Salam] does not know that failure to form a Cabinet in the 10 months he has spent without making any effort to resolve the crisis puts an end to his designation and demands that he step down.” Aoun accused Salam, who has upheld the principle of rotating all ministerial portfolios among all sects and parties since he was appointed, of “manipulating the criteria and constraints that ensure the correct path of the [Cabinet] formation.”
Referring to the possibility of excluding his bloc from a fait accompli government, Aoun said: “Any government formed outside the constitutional, legal and the National Pact framework, regardless of the objective behind its formation, will be illegitimate. On this basis we will decide the bloc’s position.”
“Did those in power forget that there is no legitimacy for any government authority that contradicts the coexistence pact with regard to marginalizing any of the nation’s components?” the FPM leader asked.
Aoun apparently opposes the ministerial rotation because it will deprive him of two key portfolios: the Energy Ministry currently held by Bassil, and the Telecommunications Ministry held by Nicolas Sehnaoui, who also belongs to the FPM.
Aoun is adamant that Bassil retain the Energy Ministry in the new Cabinet, along with another sovereign portfolio to be allotted to his bloc.
Bassil discussed the Cabinet crisis with Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV reported.
For his part, Salam vowed not to budge on his demand for rotating ministerial portfolios and warned of the dangers of delaying the Cabinet formation.
“No compromise on [ministerial] rotation which has become a necessity,” Salam told Al-Akhbar newspaper.
The delay in the Cabinet formation “threatens me, threatens all Lebanese under the weight of the bombings and the unstable situation,” he said. He warned that the current situation could lead to a sectarian conflict.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea reiterated his call for the immediate formation of a nonpartisan neutral Cabinet, blaming what he termed Aoun’s “narrow interests” for prolonging the crisis.
Sleiman and Salam “should not waste any more time and they should use their constitutional powers to form a neutral government [that excludes] the March 8 and 14 coalitions,” Geagea told the Central News Agency. “Such a step has become urgent for the interests of the nation.”
“For the first time, experience is showing that the formation of a so-called all-embracing government is facing major obstacles related to political issues and narrow details, calculations and interests,” Geagea said, in a clear reference to his political rival Aoun.
The obstacles impeding the Cabinet formation were discussed during a meeting that brought together Sleiman, Salam, Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel and MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc. The meeting was held at Metn MP Michel Murr’s residence in Rabieh to honor his son, Elias Murr, after his election as the new president of Interpol, and the organization’s Secretary-General Ronald Nobel.