THU 21 - 6 - 2018
Jun 4, 2018
The Daily Star
Hariri’s return sets Cabinet negotiations into full swing
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Serious negotiations on the formation of a new government will go into full swing starting Monday after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s return to Beirut from a visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.
Monday marks the second week since Hariri, who has been prime minister since December 2016 and served his first term from 2009 to 2011, was designated to form government for a third time on May 24 with an overwhelming parliamentary majority.
Hariri has maintained his optimism about the formation of a new government after Eid al-Fitr despite hurdles and conflicting demands by political rivals for key ministerial posts. He called Sunday for the swift formation of a Cabinet capable of meeting the challenges facing the country, including the need to carry out essential reforms demanded at April’s CEDRE conference to shore up the country’s ailing economy.
“The world expects Lebanon to take clear [reform] measures in order to help us. The world is waiting for serious reforms for our benefit and bold decisions to stop the waste [of public funds]. ... We have no choice but to go through with these reforms,” Hariri said in a speech at an iftar hosted by the Future Movement for Beirut’s residents at the Seaside Pavilion (formerly BIEL).
“Some may see [reforms] as painful choices, but I see them as inevitable choices,” Hariri said, adding that they would produce positive results in the long run.
Since the Paris CEDRE conference, which saw countries pledge over $11 billion in grants and soft loans to finance investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon, Hariri has highlighted the importance of implementing long-awaited reforms to stimulate the sluggish economy, burdened by over $80 billion in public debt, as well as provide basic services and create job opportunities.
Addressing the iftar, attended by a large crowd of Beirut residents and high-profile figures including Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, former premiers Tammam Salam and Fouad Siniora and a number of caretaker ministers, Hariri emphasized that stability constituted the nerve center of the economy.“Without stability, there is no economy, no guarantees, no working markets and no people feeling assured. The core of life in the country is stability, and the guarantee of stability is the state’s strength, and the state’s strength stems from the world’s trust in it,” Hariri said.
He said he hoped his planned consultations with rival factions on the Cabinet formation would take into account the need to implement reforms and accelerate the government formation.
“The country needs a government and legislative workshop that will bring about a qualitative move in political performance and restore confidence in the role of the state and institutions,” Hariri said. “The first correct step required in this respect is the quick formation of the government and an agreement on a Cabinet team capable of shouldering responsibility in confronting the economic, social and national challenges.”
“The people don’t care if we add a minister or remove one. They are fed up. The people care about the state’s credibility and political and socio-economic stability. They want a team that will work and not [engage in] political bickering,” he added.
Hariri’s speech came as political rivals engaged in the usual jockeying in a bid to grab a greater share of Cabinet posts, despite promises made by the leaders of major parliamentary blocs to help facilitate and accelerate the formation of a new unity government representing all parties.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil agreed on the need for a new government to be formed quickly, taking into account the results of last month’s parliamentary elections, according to a statement issued by the Free Patriotic Movement’s media committee Sunday.
The statement said Nasrallah and Bassil, who is also the FPM leader, held a lengthy meeting Friday night, and discussed the internal political situation and regional developments. The meeting was held at Nasrallah’s residence at an undisclosed location in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
In discussing the Cabinet formation efforts, Nasrallah and Bassil underscored the “importance of forming it with the needed speed in conformity with the [National] Pact, constitutional and democratic criteria and reflecting the results of the recent elections,” the statement said.
It added that Nasrallah and Bassil, whose parties made a strong showing in the May 6 vote, evaluated the results of the polls, analyzing both the positive and negative lessons to be learned.
The two also touched on the Syrian refugee crisis and mounting calls to fight pervasive corruption in the public administration.
Nasrallah and Bassil stressed that combating corruption should be given highest priority in Parliament and Cabinet action. “Agreement was reached on a preliminary mutual vision to combat corruption and on ways to adopt a joint mechanism [to do so] later on,” the statement added.
The FPM and Hezbollah have been allies since Aoun, the FPM’s founder, signed a memorandum of understanding with Nasrallah in 2006.
Two senior Hezbollah officials met with former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, discussing with him several issues, Al-Manar TV reported, describing the meeting as “positive.”
Other media outlets said Hussein Khalil, a top political aide to Nasrallah, and Wafiq Safa, a senior Hezbollah security official, agreed with Joumblatt on “permanent coordination and cooperation” between Hezbollah and the PSP.
It was not immediately clear if the problem of Druze representation in the government was discussed amid insistence by Joumblatt that the PSP’s parliamentary Democratic Gathering bloc obtain the three ministerial posts reserved for the Druze in a 30-member Cabinet.
Joumblatt’s demand was seen as an attempt to prevent his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, from being named a minister in the new government,
Caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish, one of two Hezbollah ministers in the caretaker Cabinet, said his party’s demand for a significant representation in the new government was legitimate.
“Our demand for a weighty representation in the government is legitimate. This is a right similar to that of all political parties. It is not a demand merely to take up a post, but to shoulder responsibility in coping with the problems of our society with regard to good performance and justice in implementing budgets in a balance manner, or with regard to presenting an example to face waste [of public funds] and combat corruption,” Fneish told an iftar Saturday night in the southern town of Abbasieh.
Hariri was quoted by MTV Friday as saying that Hezbollah would have three ministers in a 30-member Cabinet.
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