FRI 19 - 4 - 2019
Date: Aug 8, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Hariri: External influences help, not hinder, govt setup
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Tuesday denied any external interference to prevent the formation of a new government, saying on the contrary there is an international push to accelerate the formation and begin the implementation of reforms demanded by the CEDRE conference to salvage Lebanon’s struggling economy.

Hariri, who was designated with an overwhelming parliamentary majority to form a national unity Cabinet representing all parties, again urged political adversaries to make concessions to facilitate the government’s formation.

His remarks come as the government formation deadlock has entered its third month, with no resolution in sight, as rival factions refuse to budge on their demands for key ministerial portfolios in the new government.

Speaking to reporters before chairing the weekly meeting of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, Hariri dismissed allegations of external interference in the government formation process. He was apparently responding to recent statements by Hezbollah officials accusing Saudi Arabia of obstructing the government’s formation.

“On the contrary, there is a push from abroad to consolidate stability in Lebanon. We noticed how many foreign officials have visited Lebanon and contacted the president and me, urging us to form the government,” Hariri said, according to a statement released by his media office.

“The international community is keen on the formation of the government and the implementation of the decisions of the CEDRE conference.

“Arab countries, as well as Western ones, are keen on stability in Lebanon because the challenges we are facing, both at the economic and regional levels, are serious.” He denied that the decisions of the CEDRE conference were in danger, but added, “The countries will not wait for us forever.”

At the CEDRE conference, held in Paris on April 6, donor countries pledged more than $11 billion in grants and soft loans to finance investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon.

Hariri stressed that the situation of the country is the most important, urging all parties to be humble in their demands for ministerial posts and make “some sacrifices for the benefit of the country and the Lebanese people.” He said he was surprised to be held responsible for the delay in government formation, adding that he was in contact with all parties.

Asked why a meeting has so far yet to take place between him and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, to resolve the problem of Christian representation – a major stumbling block to the Cabinet formation – Hariri said: “I may call him and invite him to visit me, but I have not sensed anything new so far. I know the stance of the president and the Free Patriotic Movement, and I consider that everyone should care about the economic situation. If the prime minister is expected to make all the concessions, then we already sacrificed a lot.”

Asked if the problem over the government formation was that President Michel Aoun referred him to Bassil to agree on Cabinet shares, he said: “No one refers me to anyone. I am the prime minister.

“I form the government and talk to all parties. Each party has demands and I am working on forming a national entente government.”

On whether the new U.S. sanctions on Iran would have any impact on the formation, Hariri said: “We are in contact with Hezbollah, which wants the formation of a government, and everyone wants a government.”

The government formation impasse was discussed during the Future bloc’s meeting, chaired by Hariri at his Downtown Beirut residence. The bloc emphasized that consensus and dialogue are the only ways to form the government.

“The bloc stresses that internal consensus is the only way for the birth of the government and the regular functioning of constitutional institutions, which the prime minister-designate is working on, in cooperation with the president of the republic, and through communication with all the leaders,” a statement issued after the meeting said.

It added that Hariri would continue doing this, using dialogue to solve the problem, to set the wheels of government in motion.

“The prime minister-designate will take initiatives when the national interest requires it, and will not retreat from the quest to form a national entente government that takes into consideration the obligations of the confidence given by Parliament and the necessity of reaching a formula that will launch the economy and reforms that the Lebanese and their friends aspire to,” the statement said.

The bloc said it rejected attempts to divert attention from the internal stumbling blocks to the government’s formation in favor of “allegations of external insinuations.”

Earlier in the day, Hariri said his visit to Paris last week was a family visit and that he had not sought France’s mediation with Saudi Arabia over the kingdom’s alleged role in blocking the Cabinet's formation, according to a statement from Hariri’s media office.

The statement came after some local newspapers published articles Tuesday quoting anonymous sources, including “high-level political sources,” who said Hariri had asked French President Emmanuel Macron to intervene with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to facilitate the formation of the government.

The statement added that propagating fabricated news, referring to the same sources, aims at “distorting the facts and blaming the delay in forming the government on external factors, specifically Saudi Arabia, while everyone knows that the kingdom did not and does not intervene in this purely internal Lebanese matter.”

Meanwhile, Bassil renewed the FPM’s call for the formation of a new government that respects the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections.

“We are still waiting for the birth of a government founded on one criterion [that respects] the will of the people as expressed in the parliamentary elections,” Bassil told reporters after chairing the weekly meeting of the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc.

“We will not accept just any government ... [Aoun’s presidency] should not be blackmailed with the formation of a paralyzed government,” he said.

“We want a productive government based on justice in representation and the absence of selectivity and moodiness on the part of any political party that demands something that is not its right.”

Taking an indirect swipe at former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party who is insisting on naming the three ministers allocated for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet, Bassil said: “Monopolization of representation of any sect should not be adopted in a national unity government in which minorities, majorities and all political parties must be represented.”

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