WED 12 - 8 - 2020
Date: Jan 14, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Amal, FPM deal major blow to Diab efforts
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab’s efforts to form a government of specialists suffered a potentially fatal blow Monday with news that two of the main parliamentary blocs to initially back him planned to stay out of his Cabinet. Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil is slated to chair the weekly meeting of the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc Tuesday during which he is expected to announce the bloc’s position on the impasse that has left Lebanon without a functioning government since Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29 under pressure of the nationwide anti-government street protests that have jolted Lebanon since Oct. 17, 2019.

“The FPM’s bloc will decide Tuesday not to participate in the government planned by the prime minister-designate,” an official source close to the FPM told The Daily Star Monday. The source said Bassil, the FPM head, would explain whether the bloc’s decision not to participate in the government meant that the bloc would join opposition ranks.

Earlier Monday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said his Amal Movement’s parliamentary bloc would not participate in a government of “independent specialists,” which Diab insists on forming and reiterated his call for the formation of a techno-political Cabinet embracing all the parties and including representatives of the protest movement.

Speaking to a delegation from the Press Federation at his Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri criticized the terms set by Diab to form an 18-member Cabinet of technocrats who do not belong to political parties.

“The prime minister-designate has set conditions for himself that were not required from him. This has made the formation process difficult,” Berri said.

“I want a government that fights corruption. We want a government made up of competent ministers to save the country from what we are suffering. Why does the prime minister[-designate] restrict himself to things that are not stipulated by the Constitution or norms?” the speaker asked.

Berri said the “independent” ministers would eventually be chosen by parliamentary blocs and political parties that had nominated Diab to form a new government.

“He [Diab] is supposed to form a salvation government comprising people enjoying competence and clean-handedness,” Berri added. The FPM, the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies nominated Diab for prime minister after Hariri bowed out of the premiership race. But four main parties - the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb Party - which did not nominate Diab, have said they will not participate in the next government.

Now, the absence of the FPM and Amal would make things worse for Diab’s potential government, especially raising questions over the representation of the Christian community, when the three main Christian parties - the LF, the FPM and the Kataeb Party - are not participating.

“Today I reiterate that I am ready to go to Parliament and grant confidence to the government they want to form, but I will not participate in it,” said Berri, whose parliamentary bloc includes 17 MPs.

“I want Dr. Hassan Diab, but I don’t want him to restrict me and restrict himself. He did not agree with me [on a techno-political government], but I will support him. I want a government regardless of its label. I have rejected a purely political government. The solution is to form a government as soon as possible. I and the Development and Liberation bloc will vote for it. But what’s wrong with a specialist belonging to a party?” Berri asked.

Four weeks after he was designated by President Michel Aoun on Dec. 19 to form a new government after gaining the support of a parliamentary majority, Diab’s attempts appeared to have been stymied by Berri’s call, that was backed by Hezbollah, for the formation of “a techno-political government” designed to close Lebanese ranks and enable the country to face the dire economic and financial crisis and protect it from the effects of escalating U.S.-Iran tensions in the region.

In a tough statement last week, Diab vowed not to step aside, saying he would not bow to pressure from the parties that nominated him, while insisting on an 18-member government of “independent specialists.”

“Agreement was reached since the beginning with all the parties on a small government of 18 ministers, including female ministers, made up of non-partisan specialists,” Diab said. He added that the agreement also called for not including ministers of the caretaker Cabinet that had been brought down by the protest movement.

Berri blamed “pure politics” for the economic deterioration, stressing that the crisis can be solved with a salvation government. “Give us a salvation government and I guarantee you that Lebanon’s salvation is possible. Halting the downward slide is not difficult. Politics is to blame,” he said.

The speaker renewed his call for the caretaker Cabinet to “fully do its job” until a new government is formed. He criticized what he called “a war against lawmakers, ministers, restaurants and public and private institutions” launched by the protesters.

Referring to protesters’ attacks on some MPs and ministers at public places and closures of roads, he said: “What is happening runs against the rightful demands of the demonstrators.”

Lebanon now faces its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. A dollar shortage has caused the national currency to devalue on unofficial markets, individual banks have imposed informal capital controls, thousands of jobs have been lost and many businesses shuttered.

The Cabinet deadlock was discussed during a meeting between Berri and PSP leader Walid Joumblatt Monday evening.

“The country cannot remain in this sliding situation. What is required is a minimum of reactivating the caretaker [Cabinet] in this period until a new government is formed,” Joumblatt told reporters after meeting with Berri at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh residence. Although the PSP will not participate in the next government, Joumblatt said he had proposed Walid Assaf, an industrialist, to represent the Druze sect.

Joumblatt criticized the protesters for not presenting a plan to reach the government. “The plan to reach the government is [by holding] elections under a new law,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hariri is set to return to Beirut Tuesday after visiting Oman to offer condolences for the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a source close to the outgoing premier said.

Hariri left Beirut for Paris on Dec. 29, on a vacation with his family.

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