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No official response yet from Aoun on Cabinet: Sleiman

File - Lebanese President Michel Sleiman speaks during a ceremony in Beirut, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said he has yet to receive an official response from Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun regarding his participation in the new government.

“I don’t think [Aoun] refused to join the government because I haven’t received a final response from him,” Sleiman said in remarks published Wednesday.

Aoun Tuesday warned Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam against forming a fait accompli government, while 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.

The Change and Reform bloc leader opposes the rotation of ministerial portfolios in the next Cabinet, a demand the March 14 alliance has put forward for its participation in an all-embracing government.

Referring to the possibility of excluding his bloc from a fait accompli government, Aoun told a news conference that “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.”

Sleiman said he was generally satisfied with the government formation process.

In his comments to the local daily Elshark, Sleiman said a mechanism to choose the names and portfolios in the new government would be launched Wednesday or Thursday.

In response to a question about whether the government is going to be political or neutral, Sleiman said: “We are working in the two directions.”

Political sources told The Daily Star Tuesday that Salam is expected to meet 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.

Aoun apparently opposes the ministerial rotation because it would deprive him of two key portfolios: the Energy Ministry currently held by Bassil, and the Telecommunications Ministry held by Nicolas Sehnaoui, who is also a FPM member.

Aoun is adamant that Bassil retain the Energy Ministry in the new Cabinet, along with another sovereign portfolio to be allotted to his bloc.

Speaker Nabih Berri, who has criticized his ally for not compromising on the matter, told As-Safir that he his role in the formation process is on pause but that he would intervene if the need arose.

“If there is anything that requires my stepping in to facilitate the Cabinet formation then I will do so,” he said.

Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai stood firm on holding the presidential election due later this year on time.

“We will definitely have a new President, I totally oppose any [scenario] that would allow for a vacuum or the presidential election not taking place,” he also told As-Safir daily.

“Such a [scenario] means death and I reject death,” he said.

“Anyone suggesting such a [scenario] or asking for a Plan B does not want the election to take place,” the leader of the Catholic Maronite church said.

The presidential election in due in May 2014 but there are fears that differences between the March 8 and 14 camps could lead to a vacuum in the country's top post.

According to Lebanon’s National Pact, the president’s post is reserved for a Maronite Christian.

 

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Summary

President Michel Sleiman said he has yet to receive an official response from Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun regarding his participation in the new government.

Aoun Tuesday warned Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam against forming a fait accompli government, while 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.

Sleiman said he was generally satisfied with the government formation process.

Aoun is adamant that Bassil retain the Energy Ministry in the new Cabinet, along with another sovereign portfolio to be allotted to his bloc.


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