FRI 19 - 4 - 2019
Date: Aug 9, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Lack of compromise jeopardizing Cabinet efforts
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The lack of concessions by rival leaders has thrown the efforts of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to form a new government into further uncertainty and complexities, threatening to cast the country into a prolonged Cabinet deadlock, political sources said Wednesday.

“Further complicating Hariri’s mission to form a national unity government comprising all the political parties is the fact that as rival factions are standing their ground, refusing to budge on their requests for key ministerial portfolios,” a political source told The Daily Star.

Reflecting the bleak prospects of the government formation process, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said in its news bulletin Wednesday night: “The road to the government formation appears to be far off and long. The Lebanese Forces are standing firm on their demand [for key ministerial posts], the most important of which is a sovereign ministry. The same thing applies to the Socialist hurdle.”

The report was referring to 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. Joumblatt’s demand is aimed at preventing his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, from being named a minister.

But Arslan has insisted on being named a minister in the new government. Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, and other FPM lawmakers have supported Arslan’s demand to be named a minister.

Speaker Nabih Berri said lingering differences over the distribution of Cabinet shares and the blocs’ sizes were still blocking the government’s formation.

Speaking during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri reiterated the need for the swift formation of the government in view of the “difficult economic situation” in Lebanon.

He hinted at external intervention in the government formation process.

“If there is any external intervention [in the government formation], it is because local [politicians] are inviting it. We are required to convince everyone, even our friends, that we are the ones who solve our internal issues,” MP Ali Bazzi, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, quoted the speaker as saying.

Berri later chaired a meeting of his Development and Liberation bloc, which issued a statement underlining the urgency to form a government as soon as possible to cope with various social and economic problems.

Hariri Tuesday denied there was any external interference preventing the formation of a new government, saying that on the contrary, there has been an international push to accelerate its formation in order to salvage Lebanon’s ailing economy.

In addition to the problem of Druze representation, there is also the problem of Christian representation, fiercely contested between the FPM and the LF, as well as the representation of Sunni lawmakers not affiliated with the Future Movement, sources at Baabda Palace said Wednesday.

“The Lebanese Forces have been offered four ministerial posts without a sovereign ministry. But they insist on having a sovereign ministry,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

The source added that Aoun had told LF caretaker Information Minister Melhem Riachi during their meeting at Baabda Palace last week that the issue of granting the LF a sovereign ministry was being discussed with the prime minister-designate.

Still, LF officials are adamant on a sovereign ministry. “We want either the Defense or Foreign ministry. This is the Lebanese Forces’ right. This position has been relayed to the president and the prime minister-designate,” Riachi said in an interview with MTV Wednesday night.

The other two sovereign ministries – Finance and Interior – are allocated to Berri’s Amal Movement and Hariri’s Future Movement, respectively.

Riachi expressed regret that Bassil was not talking to LF officials to resolve the problem of Christian representation.

“Seriously, Minister Bassil does not want to talk to us,” he said.

Bassil, currently at the center of the struggle between the FPM and the LF over Cabinet shares for the Christian community, has shown no signs of softening his opposition to the LF’s demand for significant representation.

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

LF ministers and lawmakers have accused Bassil of seeking to prevent the LF from obtaining a significant Cabinet share based on the results of the elections, when the party boosted its representation from eight to 15 MPs. The LF’s demand for key portfolios, including the position of the deputy prime minister, has been rejected by Aoun and Bassil.

The Baabda Palace source said, “Let the prime minister-designate come forward with a draft Cabinet lineup based on the criteria for the formation of a national unity government outlined by Aoun in his speech on Army Day on Aug. 1 that respect the results of the elections.”

The source pointed out that the increased talk by some politicians about the early opening of the presidential battle, which is four years from now, and linking it to the Cabinet impasse, was aimed at “diverting attention from the real causes of the government formation problem and targeting [President Michel Aoun’s] term.”

“How can President Aoun, who has been less than two years in office, obstruct the government formation and his own presidency?” the source said.

In remarks published last week, Aoun said the early opening of the presidential battle was behind the delay in the formation of a new government, adding that Bassil, his son-in-law, is a front-runner in the race due in 2022.

Bassil, in a statement issued by his media office Wednesday, dismissed as “baseless” statements and articles claiming that the FPM leader was already planning for the presidential battle.

“These [media] campaigns [on the presidential battle] are aimed at undermining and harming [Aoun’s] term. Therefore, the president or the FPM and its head cannot be accused of it [opening the presidential battle],” the statement said. “We are not in a phase of political suicide, but in a phase of political achievements.”

Berri files libel and slander lawsuit against Al-Jadeed

Dala Osseiran| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri filed a complaint Wednesday against TV station Al-Jadeed for libel and slander, after the network broadcast claims that officials from his party conspired with generator owners to prevent a power barge from docking in southern Lebanon.

According to the state-run National News Agency, the lawsuit – filed against Al-Jadeed and two of its employees, deputy news editor Karma Khayat and journalist Mariam Bassam – claims the channel slandered Amal ministers and Berri’s adviser Ahmad Baalbaki.

The Daily Star was unable to confirm what comments formed the basis of Berri’s lawsuit.

When contacted, General Manager of Al-Jadeed Dimitri Khodr said the news outlet had just received notice of the suit and could not yet provide further comment.

Al-Jadeed’s nightly news coverage on Aug. 5 described Amal’s move to prevent a new Turkish power barge from docking in the southern city of Zahrani as “theft.”

The Amal Movement – the dominant political force in the district – has justified the move by claiming the barge’s installation there would have delayed construction of a fixed power plant and contributed to polluting the environment.

The newscast seemed to allege that the real reason behind Amal’s decision was to benefit the owners of private generators that provide electricity to residents during daily power cuts. Generator owners were “conspiring with the mafia government and splitting the profit of darkness,” news anchor Ramez al-Qadi said.

The report criticized Amal caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, saying that if he cared about the people, he wouldn’t have deprived the south of additional hours of daily electricity by stopping the barge from docking in Zahrani.

The newscast said that Hezbollah, Amal’s ally, had welcomed the barge and met with caretaker Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil to discuss it further. However, “they were stonewalled. And sources told Al-Jadeed that Hezbollah arrived at that wall because of Speaker Nabih Berri’s adviser Ahmad Baalbaki.”

Qadi was not mentioned in the NNA’s report of the lawsuit.

Berri filed the lawsuit to the Public Prosecutor, and the case was referred to Judge Ghassan Tanious al-Khoury, who summoned the defendants to a hearing on Aug. 13.

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