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French Version

'Done deal' for new Lebanese government done in by bickering

Two sides blame each other for latest breakdown

Rival Lebanese factions have reportedly failed to reach a deal on the distribution of portfolios in the new cabinet following reports of a possible rapprochement between Priem Minister-designate Fouad Siniora and Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun that would eventually lead to the birth of the new government.

But the deal has reportedly stumbled over Aoun's insistence on including the Public Works and Transportation portfolio in a package that was reportedly offered to him by Siniora late last week.

The package offered to the FPM leader includes the post of deputy premier, the Telecommunications Ministry, and three other portfolios.

Meanwhile, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star Sunday that Siniora and President Michel Sleiman were close to taking a decision to go ahead with the formation of a new cabinet irrespective of whether Aoun agrees to the distribution of government portfolios.

"This decision has not been taken yet, but Siniora and Sleiman are not very far away from it given Aoun's insistence to block the formation of the new cabinet," Houri said.

"The opposition would still get veto power in accordance with the Doha agreement, which also commits all parties not to resign from the government," he added.

The Doha deal, which ended an 18-month political crisis in the country, made it a condition that the rival factions do not resign after the cabinet is formed.

But the cabinet would still have to win a vote of confidence of the simple majority of lawmakers in Parliament.

"Hizbullah MP Hassan Fadlallah proposed earlier giving Aoun the post of deputy premier and the Telecommunications Ministry instead of a sovereign portfolio ... I took charge of checking if Fadlallah's proposal was serious ... We asked Aoun to officially adopt the proposal, but he refused to do so and went on to increase his demands," Houri said.

"He now wants to include the Public Works and Transportation Ministry in the package," he added.

Houri said Aoun's performance with respect to the formation of the new cabinet indicated that he was not serious about joining the government.

"It seems he prefers to approach next year's parliamentary polls while still in the ranks of the opposition," Houri added.

However, FPM lawmaker Nabil Nicholas told The Daily Star Sunday that Aoun only agreed to give up the sovereign portfolio in return for getting the Telecommunications Ministry.

"But we never said that we were ready to give up the Public Works and Transportation portfolio ... they are fabricating lies," Nicholas said.

The MP said that speaking about moving ahead with forming a new cabinet irrespective of whether the opposition agrees to the distribution of portfolios proves that Siniora was still operating with the "same old mentality."

"Let them try to form the cabinet this way ... we will sit back and clap," he said sarcastically.

Earlier on Sunday, senior FPM official Gibran Bassil told An-Nahar that Aoun was no longer ready to give up his demand of getting a sovereign portfolio after Siniora refused to include the Public Works and Transportation portfolio in the package that was reportedly offered to the retired general.

Meanwhile, in an interview published Sunday in the Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Arab League chief Amr Moussa warned that Lebanon was nearing a dangerous "red line" in its failure to form a new unity government under a deal struck in Doha more than five weeks ago.

"We are waiting to see how Lebanese politicians deal with the question of forming the cabinet under extremely dangerous circumstances that have known repercussions," Moussa said.

"Lebanon is still dotted with mines, and the solution must come from inside the country," he said of the squabbling over the allocation of key portfolios.

Moussa, who has mediated for months to try to resolve Lebanon's protracted political crisis, had already voiced regrets on June 13 over the failure of rival factions to agree on the makeup of a new government.

Forming a cabinet "is an inseparable part of the Doha accord and a pillar of Lebanon's stability," he said, referring to the May 21 deal which brought Beirut's feuding political factions back from the brink of civil war.

Meanwhile, Sleiman voiced hope Saturday that the new government sees the light within the next 48 hours, adding that the delay in forming the new cabinet was unjustified.

"Whoever is responsible for the delay is committing a big mistake and inflicting harm on the Lebanese people," Sleiman told a delegation of Lebanese consuls who visited him at the Presidential Palace.

"The Lebanese people need stability and are longing to see a new government," he added.

Sleiman said he was not ready to tolerate further delays in forming the new cabinet.

"The living conditions are tied to the formation of this government ... the political situation should be restored to normal," he said.

The president also criticized the dispute over the distribution of portfolios in the new cabinet.

"It is shameful to debate over service-related ministries to satisfy personal ambitions when national interests should take precedence to all other interests," he said.

A Qatari envoy who arrived in Beirut on an unannounced visit Thursday met several Lebanese leaders, including Sleiman, to sound out their opinions regarding the delay in forming the cabinet and try to determine whether the divisions were wider than reported and whether Qatar could help bridge the gap.

Although the results of the contacts were not revealed, The Daily Star learned on Saturday that the Qatari envoy was optimistic the obstacles could be overcome and expected a solution sooner than predicted by other politicians.

But the optimism did not last for long after the rival factions reportedly returned to square one.

Beirut 30-06-2008
The Daily Star

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