MON 17 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jan 9, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Future MPs to consider reactivating Cabinet
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc promised Tuesday to study a proposal to reactivate the caretaker government with a view to preparing and endorsing the 2019 draft state budget, as attempts to form a new Cabinet remain bogged down for the eighth month with no resolution in sight.

“The bloc discussed the proposal aimed at reactivating the caretaker Cabinet and the need to prepare the budget draft and refer it to Parliament,” a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by MP Bahia Hariri said.

“The bloc stressed that this proposal will be a topic of study and follow-up in order to reach a decision that conforms to the requirements of the Constitution and the public interest, especially with the head of the caretaker Cabinet who is concerned with making the final decision in this respect,” the statement added.

The bloc was apparently responding to a proposal made last week by Speaker Nabih Berri that called on Hariri’s caretaker Cabinet to meet and pass the 2019 draft budget. Berri’s proposal was construed as reflecting his frustration with the delay in the Cabinet formation.

In 2017 and 2018, the outgoing government endorsed Lebanon’s first budgets since 2005, but has yet to pass the 2019 budget.

Berri compared the current political situation to that of 1969, when the caretaker government under then-Prime Minister Rashid Karami passed a budget because it was considered an “urgent” matter.

The Future Movement and other blocs have expressed reservations over the caretaker government meeting to address urgent matters.

Berri, who last week said Cabinet formation efforts were behind square one, remained pessimistic Tuesday.

Asked about the fate of the new government, Berri, speaking at a joint news conference with the Speaker of Guinea-Bissau’s Parliament Cipriano Cassama at his Ain al-Tineh residence, told reporters: “It’s still unknown.”

The Future bloc rejected accusations that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was to blame for the Cabinet formation deadlock. It said that the issuance of the Cabinet lineup decrees was a joint constitutional responsibility between the president and the premier-designate.

The bloc was apparently responding to Hezbollah officials and lawmakers who have declared in recent weeks that the solution to the Cabinet crisis lies with the prime minister-designate who, they said, must meet a demand by six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs to be represented in the next government.

“Any new norms [in the Cabinet formation] fall in the category of political novelties, whose only function is to violate the Constitution and disrupt the normal path of political life and the mechanisms outlined in the Taif Accord,” the statement said.

In discussing the latest Cabinet formation developments, the bloc concluded that Hariri had shouldered his “full constitutional and political responsibilities with the aim of reaching a national entente government that was to be announced on the eve of Independence Day last November before the proposed formula was scuttled, when [Hezbollah] linked its participation in it to representing the group of the six MPs.”

The bloc said another chance to announce a lineup before the New Year was foiled after resolving the problem of the MPs’ representation, when the six instead insisted that their candidate, Jawad Adra, should exclusively represent their group, the “Constitutional Gathering,” and not belong to any other bloc.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, demanded that the six MPs’ representative be part of the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc. “This has brought the formation process to the square of polarization. ... Renewed attempts to hold the premier-designate responsible for the consequences of the delay in the government formation will be to no avail,” the bloc said.

Despite Hezbollah’s verbal attacks on Hariri over the crisis, a senior party official said Hezbollah still backed him as prime minister.

“There is no decision or intention at the Hezbollah command to attack the prime minister-designate. The party is still convinced that, despite everything, Hariri should be the prime minister at this stage,” Hussein Khalil, a top political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, said in remarks published Tuesday in daily Al-Akhbar.

The Strong Lebanon bloc called for the quick formation of a new Cabinet, saying President Michel Aoun’s initiative and a host of proposals made by Bassil to break the impasse over the representation of the six MPs were still available.

“The formation of a government is required and time is important in this regard. We recognize the rights of everyone according to the results of the last [May parliamentary] elections and the setup of Parliament concerning a national unity government. What is required is for this issue to be settled and tackled,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan told reporters after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by Bassil.

Visitors to Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai also called for the rapid formation of a new government to stimulate the sluggish economy. Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari, who congratulated Rai on the holidays, reiterated the kingdom’s support for Lebanon. “I wish stability and peace to Lebanon, starting with the formation of a government as soon as possible so that it can work for economic and social revival,” Bukhari said after meeting with Rai.

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