Lebanon News

Aoun allies press him to compromise

President Michel Sleiman, left, receives Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam in Baabda, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Mediators renewed efforts Wednesday to address Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun’s objection to rotating ministerial portfolios in the new Cabinet, a day after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah met caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil.

Speaking to The Daily Star, a March 8 source said that Nasrallah asked Bassil to relay to Aoun his wish that the FPM leader engage mediators and make them aware of demands he wanted met in return for abandoning his claim to the Energy Ministry.

Nasrallah reportedly conveyed this request during Bassil’s visit on behalf of Aoun to the Hezbollah leader Tuesday.

The source said that during the meeting, Nasrallah told Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, that Hezbollah would back the FPM in its decision to oppose rotation and to boycott a Cabinet in which the party was not given the representation it sought.

The remaining obstacle hindering the formation of an all-embracing government is Aoun’s opposition to rotating ministerial portfolios among key sects.

The concept of rotation was part of an agreement reached earlier this month between the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Future Movement. The agreement also calls for the formation of a national unity government based on an 8-8-8 lineup.

Aoun argues that the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios aims only at stripping his group of the Energy Ministry. The FPM considers the Energy Ministry a strategic asset for Christians.

Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, who visited Speaker Nabih Berri and then Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam at his Moseitbeh residence, said that new ideas were being mulled over to convince Aoun to abandon his demand for the Energy Ministry.

“We are discussing new ideas in order to resolve the issue but no final results have been reached yet,” Abu Faour told The Daily Star. He said that the proposals have yet to be conveyed to Aoun.

Abu Faour, from the PSP, has been shuttling between President Michel Sleiman, Salam and Berri in a bid to achieve a breakthrough in the Cabinet crisis.

A senior March 8 source said that Abu Faour proposed asking Aoun about what he actually wanted in return for accepting the principle of ministerial portfolio rotation. The source said that Aoun has yet to make clear demands, adding that only one or two days were left for reaching a deal over an all-embracing government.

Salam discussed the progress in efforts to form the new government with Sleiman at Baabda Palace.

Sources from Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc said that the FPM might be willing to discuss solutions if it was granted the Foreign Ministry portfolio.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said that allotting the Energy Ministry to the Tashnag Party, an FPM ally, would be an acceptable solution by the group.Another proposal being discussed is to grant the FPM the Finance Ministry, considered a difficult demand.

Caretaker Minister of State for Administrative Development Mohammad Fneish ruled out the formation of an all-embracing government that excludes the FPM, adding that his party, Hezbollah, would remain committed to the memorandum of understanding inked with the FPM in February 2006.

“Our relationship with the Free Patriotic Movement is based on an understanding and a strategic, constitutional vision based on the National Pact and we can only be together. No one should bet otherwise,” Fneish told the Central News Agency.

“No one can disregard the Free Patriotic Movement and [there will be] no all-embracing government without this movement,” he added.

Asked whether Hezbollah would take part in a government without Aoun, Fneish said: “Things should not reach that point.”

For his part, Berri was quoted as saying he was ready to resume his efforts to facilitate the formation of the government if new developments requiring so emerged.

The March 14 general-secretariat said in a statement that the Baabda Declaration, agreed upon by rival political parties in June 2012, should be included in the policy statement of the new Cabinet rather than the clause stating that Lebanon has the right to liberate its Israeli-occupied territories through the “Army, people and Resistance.” The clause is supported by Hezbollah, as it considers that it legitimizes the party’s arms.

The Baabda Declaration calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly the war in neighboring Syria. Although it initially approved it, Hezbollah announced last year that its party has joined the war in Syria alongside President Bashar Assad.

Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said that his party has decided to join an all-embracing government to prevent Hezbollah from pushing Lebanon to a vacuum, as the new Cabinet would prepare for holding presidential elections, scheduled for spring. “We have the duty of preserving our principles and by joining the government, we are defending rather than abandoning them. We will be preventing Hezbollah from dragging us to vacuum.”

“This Cabinet, based on the 8-8-8 formula, will weaken Hezbollah because it will lift the political cover on its participation in Syria’s war,” Gemayel explained.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 30, 2014, on page 1.




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