2008-06-13 Syria-Lebanon-Iran||Aoun's stubbornness threatens to torpedo Doha accord
As Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora struggles to form a government satisfactory to both the majority and opposition, MP Michel Aoun has once again assumed the role of spoiler.|
The General has recently raised eyebrows - and blood pressure levels - by demanding one of just four sovereign ministries for his own bloc, despite having already received nearly half of the opposition's total share of ministers. At present, there is a general consensus that of the sovereign portfolios - Justice, Interior, Finance and Foreign Affairs - the first two will go to President Suleiman, while the majority and opposition will each take one of the latter. In recent years, Finance has traditionally gone to the Future Movement, and Foreign Affairs to Amal. Both parties have expressed their desire to retain the posts in the next government.
Aoun's demand therefore risks upsetting not only the majority (Aoun has specifically asked for the Finance portfolio) but also his opposition allies, who do not want to see him granted their only key post.
In an attempt to mitigate the latter, Aoun is demanding that the opposition receive two sovereign ministries, effectively stripping one portfolio from the president. But the majority will not accept having less sovereign ministers than the minority: If it doesn't block the formation of the government altogether, Aoun's ploy could ultimately leave the president empty-handed, further weakening the country's highest Christian officeholder.
Allocating the ministries
Speaking to NOW Lebanon, Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan argued that it was fair for the opposition to take two sovereign ministries, as the majority had already secured a sovereign post in the government by nominating Fouad Siniora to be the new prime minister. "This is a super-sovereign ministry with many privileges, and we are entitled by the law and custom to ask for whatever ministry we want," he contended.
When asked about the FPM's reasons for choosing the Finance Ministry in particular, Kanaan stressed that they primarily wanted to break the Future Movement's hold over the ministry. "This is all still unresolved, and the media talk about who gets what is premature. All parliamentary blocs demanded ministries, and like everybody else, we are waiting for Siniora to present his formula."
Future MP Jamal Jarrah told NOW Lebanon that the prime minister's position cannot be considered a "sovereign ministry" because it is simply part of the division of authorities under the Taif Agreement. "This is just another invention by Aoun to circumvent Taif and challenge political norms," he said.
Nasir al-Asaad, a columnist for Al-Mustaqbal daily, also confirmed that the prime minister's election is separate from the government's formation. "No one has 'given' the prime minister's office to anyone," he stressed.
A key component of Aoun's strategy has been to cast himself both as part of the opposition and as the primary Christian representative, demanding a share in both capacities. "He cannot do that. He has to realize that he is representing the Christians in the opposition, and he cannot claim his own share away from the opposition," Jarrah added.
Asking for the impossible
Jarrah remained firm that the president would be able to appoint both the Interior and Defense ministers, leaving only two sovereigns up for grabs. While the opposition can choose between the Finance or Foreign Affairs ministries, he said, it cannot have both - a position reportedly reflected in the proposal conveyed from Siniora, via his adviser Mohammed Chattah, to Aoun in Rabieh last night. "We are not clinging to the Finance Ministry, as ministries do not belong to certain sects or parties. But we are also aware that the General is trying to get the Defense Ministry by targeting the Finance Ministry."
Aoun had initially shown an interest in the defense portfolio, and some have speculated that he may be demanding Finance at this stage as a negotiating strategy to get the majority to offer him Defense as a compromise.
Theories on Aoun's motives abound, and range from delusional to dangerous. Aoun might be taking a maximalist position in order to eventually receive key service ministries in a compromise, which could help him bolster popular support ahead of the 2009 elections, or to extract other concessions for himself - or his allies - later on.
But watching this drama unfold, Lebanese may experience a sense of deja vu. In the summer of 2005, Aoun also hindered Siniora's efforts to form the first government following the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces. Negotiations eventually broke down with Aoun demanding the Justice Ministry and that all of his ministers hold portfolios. While in 2005, this led to the Free Patriotic Movement entering the opposition to the Siniora government, the consequences of the General's obstruction in 2008 could be far graver. With the formation of a national unity government one of the pillars of the Doha Agreement, Aoun's intransigence threatens to torpedo the cabinet - and the fragile consensus reached in Doha itself.
|Posted by Fred 2008-06-13 00:00||
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