TUE 26 - 3 - 2019
Date: Nov 6, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Macron’s envoy urges Lebanon to form a govt
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A special envoy of French President Emmanuel Macron Monday held talks with senior Lebanese officials on the need for the quick formation of a new government to rescue Lebanon’s struggling economy, diplomatic sources said.

Aurelien Lechevallier, Macron’s adviser for diplomatic affairs in the Middle East, arrived in Beirut on a two-day visit. He met with caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil at the Foreign Ministry, before he held talks with former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, at the latter’s residence in Beirut’s Clemenceau neighborhood.

Lechevallier’s talks with Bassil and Joumblatt focused on current developments in Lebanon and the region, the state-run National News Agency reported, without giving further details.

The envoy’s visit coincided with two negative developments indicating that the formation of a new government, now stalled by Hezbollah’s insistence on the representation of Sunni lawmakers not affiliated with the Future Movement, was not imminent.

Speaker Nabih Berri called for a two-day legislative session to be held next week to discuss and endorse a host of draft laws on Parliament’s agenda. Berri’s move was seen as reflecting his frustration with the lack of a solution to the Cabinet crisis, which has entered its sixth month.

Lawmakers are divided over whether Parliament should convene to legislate under a caretaker government. Some blocs prefer to wait for the formation of a new Cabinet.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who had been expected to return to Beirut from a private visit to France over the weekend, appeared to have extended his stay there after his Cabinet formation efforts were thwarted by a last-minute hitch over the issue of representing the six so-called independent Sunni MPs.

Some reports said Hariri might be staying in France to attend the Paris Peace Forum, which will run from Nov. 11-13.

“Hariri is staying in Paris for a few days to finish some private matters and also to let things calm down. He wants his conscience to be clear in any decision he might take toward his [popular] base and supporters,” Future Movement MP Walid Baarini told the Central News Agency.

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, the premier-designate’s aunt, denied that Hariri was refraining from the task of forming the government.

“The designated premier hasn’t refrained from forming a government. He is taking his time in the formation process,” Bahia Hariri, a member of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, told reporters after heading a Future delegation to the Socio-economic Council.

“We have full hope that following President Michel Aoun’s remarks, we will be heading toward a solution,” she added.

She was referring to Aoun’s televised interview last week in which he backed Hariri’s stance on refusing to cede a seat from the Future Movement’s share to the independent Sunni MPs.

Macron’s envoy also met with advisers to Aoun at Baabda Palace, as well as with Mahmoud Berri, a brother of and adviser to Speaker Berri, and Hani Hammoud, a media adviser to Hariri, a source at the French Embassy told The Daily Star.

The source said no meeting was scheduled between Lechevallier and Aoun because French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher had met with the Lebanese president last Friday and relayed the same message.

The French envoy, who is set to leave Beirut Tuesday, did not speak to reporters after his meetings with Lebanese officials.

“President Macron’s envoy is carrying an oral message to Lebanese officials calling for the acceleration of the government formation because there are decisions and recommendations adopted at the CEDRE conference that need to be implemented to save Lebanon’s economy,” the source said.

The French envoy’s visit came a few days after Foucher met with Aoun, reiterating his country’s support for Lebanon and discussed Macron’s upcoming trip to Lebanon. Macron, whose country hosted the CEDRE conference in April to shore up Lebanon’s weak economy, is scheduled to visit Beirut in February.

The CEDRE conference raised nearly $12 billion in grants and soft loans pledged by countries and international organizations to finance investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon. Lebanon pledged at the conference to carry out structural reforms to revitalize the sluggish economy.

However, the implementation of the reforms remains contingent on the formation of a new government.

Meanwhile, Future MP Mohammad Hajjar criticized Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem for saying that the government would not be complete unless one of the independent Sunni MPs was named a minister.

“This is a call for not forming the government,” Hajjar said.

“For us, the government will be complete when Hezbollah decides to hand over the names of its ministers.”

Berri and Hezbollah have voiced support for a demand by the six Sunni MPs to be represented in the new government. Hezbollah has refused to hand Hariri the names of its three candidates for the new Cabinet.

In response, Hariri has stood firm on his refusal to cede a seat from the Future Movement’s share in Cabinet to those Sunni parliamentarians who are demanding to be represented in the government. Aoun has backed Hariri’s position on the issue, saying that the six Sunni lawmakers did not have a right to representation because they were not part of a single parliamentary bloc.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Aoun would not accept the Cabinet formation to be deadlocked.

“The president says we cannot succumb to a new problem [over Cabinet formation]. He is waiting for the prime minister-designate to return to find solutions that cannot be at the expense of Lebanon and internal unity,” Rai told reporters after meeting Aoun at Baabda Palace.

Referring to the last obstacle of the six Sunni MPs’ demand, he said: “Strength does not stem from putting spikes in the wheels, but rather in paving the way for the Cabinet formation.”

Rai declined to identify those obstructing the Cabinet formation, telling reporters: “All of you know who the obstructer is. But I regret that when the problem [of Christian representation] was resolved, a new hurdle emerged. Enough creating hurdles.”

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