SUN 16 - 6 - 2019
Date: Oct 8, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Hariri to forge ahead unfazed by Bassil’s proposal
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is determined to forge ahead with his attempts to form a new government, unruffled by pessimism that swept the country as a result of caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s hard-line stance on the Lebanese Forces’ Cabinet share, political sources said Sunday.

“Prime Minister-[designate] Hariri is preparing to launch a new round of consultations this week with the political parties directly concerned with the remaining obstacles to the formation of a new government,” a political source familiar with the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star.

“Hariri has not been deterred by Bassil’s controversial proposed criterion for the distribution of ministerial posts among the major parliamentary blocs. The fresh talks with various parties are intended to make headway in the Cabinet deadlock within the 10-day deadline he had set for himself,” the source said.

Yet it remains to be seen whether Hariri, who was designated to form a new government on May 24, will be able to overcome major hurdles facing the formation within this deadline, given the parties’ fierce competition for key ministerial portfolios and their unyielding positions.

Hariri last week called on political leaders to make concessions, saying he hoped a government would be formed in seven to 10 days.

He said his optimism stemmed largely from the “positive talks” he held with President Michel Aoun the day before, in the first public encounter between them in a month since Hariri presented the president with his first draft Cabinet formula on Sept. 3.

The formula did not break the deadlock, now in its fifth month, after failing to garner the support of Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by the president.

Aoun voiced a number of reservations over the formula, particularly over the allocation of ministerial posts to the LF and the Progressive Socialist Party.The FPM, headed by Bassil, and the LF, led by Samir Geagea, have been embroiled for more than four months in a fierce struggle over Christian representation in the next government.

Although former MP Walid Joumblatt has long insisted on naming the three ministers set aside for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet seemingly with the intent of excluding his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, an ally of the FPM the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party has recently signaled his readiness to discuss a compromise to help break the deadlock.

This was confirmed Sunday by a member of the PSP’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc.

MP Hadi Aboul Hosn said the PSP has shown “flexibility” in a bid to help facilitate the Cabinet formation.

“We are in the last chapter of the government formation process,” Aboul Hosn told MTV, confirming reports that Arslan would be excluded from the new government in favor of a neutral Druze figure.

A day after Hariri expressed optimism about forming the government within 10 days, Bassil told a televised news conference the LF should not be allocated more than three ministers despite having boosted its MPs from eight to 15 in the May elections.

He called for the adoption of a “criterion” of one minister for five MPs.

The LF quickly rejected Bassil’s proposal and renewed its demand for five ministers, or one-third of the 15 ministerial posts set aside for Christians in a 30-member government. The LF maintains that because it gained one-third of the Christian popular representation, it deserves one-third of the ministerial representation in the Cabinet.

Commenting on Bassil’s remarks, Speaker Nabih Berri told Al-Akhbar newspaper Saturday: “We’re back to zero. There were signs of a breakthrough, but after yesterday’s [Friday’s] remarks [by Bassil], I am pessimistic.”

But, Joumblatt, a key ally of Berri, called for a thorough study of Bassil’s proposal for Cabinet representation.

“We must study with objectivity and in depth the latest presentation made by Minister Bassil, without diminishing the importance of the Cabinet proposal presented by Sheikh Saad Hariri [to Aoun]” Joumblatt tweeted Saturday.

He warned that time was running out to form a government and that anymore delays in the formation would not be in the country’s interest.

The PSP leader also said he shared Berri’s “deep concerns” over the dire consequences for the country’s economy posed by the delay in the government formation.

MP George Adwan, the LF’s deputy leader, lashed out at Bassil’s proposal, saying it infringed on the prime minister-designate’s prerogatives in forming the government.

“The prime minister-designate is the one who sets out the rules of [Cabinet] formation, which is at the core of his constitutional prerogatives. Any distribution [of Cabinet shares] is a clear infringement on the prerogatives of the prime minister-designate and the president of the republic,” Adwan told Al-Jadeed TV.

Two lawmakers called for rival parties to make mutual concessions to help facilitate the government formation.

Future Movement MP Samir Jisr said the formation of a government required compromise.

“We implore God to inspire all political leaders to work hard and make mutual concessions in order to help in the formation of a government to take care of the people’s affairs. The general and economic situation in the country cannot endure delay,” Jisr told a Future Movement-organized ceremony in the northern city of Tripoli.

MP Wael Abu Faour from the PSP’s bloc also called for a compromise based on mutual concessions, adding that the solution to the crisis lay in Cabinet representation based on the results of the elections.

“It’s regrettable that so far the [logic] of compromise has not been fully victorious. Everyone is complaining about the economic situation and the state has debts to repay,” Abu Faour said. “The remedy is only through reforms. Being on the threshold of monetary challenges ... why cannot there be a compromise based on justice and on mutual concessions?” he asked.

Although he criticized the proportional vote law under which the elections were held, Abu Faour said: “The solution [to the problem of Cabinet representation] is by resorting to the results of parliamentary elections.”

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