FRI 19 - 4 - 2019
Date: Sep 3, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Delayed Hariri-Bassil talks cast gloom on Cabinet prospects
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A delayed meeting between Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has cast gloom over intensified moves to break the government formation impasse, raising concerns over whether Bassil was eager to facilitate its formation, as he has promised, political sources said Sunday.

Hariri’s talks with Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, are deemed crucial before the prime minister-designate visits Baabda Palace to present Aoun with a draft Cabinet formula in hopes of resolving the crisis, now in its fourth month. Hariri’s visit to Baabda Palace was initially supposed to take place over the weekend after meeting with Bassil.

A political source said Hariri had expected Bassil to visit him last Friday to discuss a solution to the problem of Christian representation – one of the main stumbling blocks to the formation of a new government – including a proposal of four ministerial posts for the Lebanese Forces.

Instead, Bassil traveled to the northern town of Diman, where he met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai, discussing the Cabinet formation crisis, including the FPM-LF rivalry over Christian representation in the government, the source said.

Hariri flew to Egypt Saturday on a brief private visit.

Hariri last week held talks with LF leader Samir Geagea centering on resolving the issue of Christian representation in the new government.

Geagea and other LF officials have yet to respond to Hariri’s reported offer of four significant ministries to the LF that did not include a sovereign ministry, or the post of the deputy prime minister. These include the Public Works, Education, Justice and Social Affairs ministries.

Baabda Palace sources said Aoun was still waiting to meet with Hariri to see if his draft Cabinet formula would help resolve the crisis, or else he would press on with proposals of his own.

“Before Hariri visits Baabda Palace, he must first meet with Bassil to sound out his view on the proposed Cabinet lineup,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

“The outcome of Hariri’s meeting with Bassil will indicate whether a major breakthrough in the government deadlock is attainable,” the source said.

Should Hariri’s draft Cabinet proposal fail to break the deadlock, the source added, Aoun was determined to take steps aimed at accelerating the government’s formation.

Among these steps is that Aoun “might either address the Lebanese, or send a letter to Parliament explaining the obstacles facing the formation of a national unity government.”

A third option is that the president might propose ideas to help overcome the hurdles delaying the government’s formation, the source said.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem criticized politicians who linked the government formation to presidential elections, due in 2022, or who were waiting for external developments to lead to solutions. He said that the formation of a new government was an “urgent need at this stage – politically, economically and socially,” warning time was running out for the formation.

“If some believe that linking the delay in the government’s formation to crises abroad will lead to a solution [to the government crisis], we say to them, that only leads to further disruption,” Qassem said during a student graduation ceremony in the southern town of Nabatieh.

Taking an indirect swipe at Bassil, who has not concealed his presidential ambitions to succeed his father-in-law, at the end of his term-in-office in 2022, Qassem said: “If some link the government formation to the presidency and believe that his position in the government will help him to be [elected] president of the republic at the end of the current president’s term, he is under illusion.”

Aoun said last month that Bassil was the target of media campaigns and harsh rhetoric, mainly by ministers and lawmakers from the LF and the Progressive Socialist Party, because he is a front-runner in the presidential battle.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian defended Hariri’s prerogatives to form the government, as stipulated by the Constitution.

“Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was designated to form the government, is very keen on preserving his prerogatives, which confine the government formation to him in cooperation with the president.

“There is no need for [legal] fatwas and interpretations,” Derian said at a ceremony in the mountains, honoring him after performing the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

“There is no [constitutional] interpretation with regard to the prime minister-designate’s prerogatives. Constitutional texts are clear that there is no deadline for the government’s formation,” Derian said.

He was apparently responding to reports that caretaker Justice Minister Salim Jreissati from the FPM was preparing to present to Aoun a constitutional interpretation that would set a deadline for the prime minister-designate to form a government.

Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil called on rival political parties to put the national interest first, warning that Lebanon was facing economic and financial challenges that required the presence of a new government as soon as possible.

“All political parties and parliamentary blocs are duty-bound to approach with a new and exceptional logic that meets the great challenges we are facing at the economic and financial levels,” Khalil said at a ceremony in south Lebanon honoring students who passed official exams and university graduates.

Responding to skeptics of Lebanon’s financial stability, Khalil said: “There is no problem in this respect. It’s true we are facing a crisis related to the rising rate of public debt and the cost of this debt. ... We are coordinating with the central bank to manage monetary and financial affairs, which makes us confident of the stability of this [financial] situation.”

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