FRI 29 - 5 - 2020
Date: Oct 9, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Hariri in race against time to end Cabinet deadlock
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Monday appeared to be in a race against time in his attempts to form an all-embracing government during the 10-day deadline he had set to break the monthslong Cabinet deadlock.

This comes amid a pall of gloom cast on the government formation process as a result of caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s tough position on the Lebanese Forces’ Cabinet share. It also comes amid mounting calls for political adversaries to make concessions to accelerate the government formation.

“There is no progress, not even 1 meter forward [on the way to Cabinet formation]. We are at a standstill,” NBN channel quoted Speaker Nabih Berri as saying in its news bulletin Monday night.

“Publicly, no moves [over the Cabinet formation] have been seen. There might be consultations, contacts and meetings behind the scenes, but nothing new has been announced,” said the station, which is affiliated with Berri’s Amal Movement.

NBN further asked whether Hariri still adopted the 10-day deadline for announcing a national unity government in which all the main political parties are represented, and whether he would hold another meeting with President Michel Aoun this week before the latter leaves on a two-day visit to Armenia Wednesday to attend the Francophone conference.

Sources at Baabda Palace did not expect any major breakthrough in the Cabinet standoff, now in its fifth month, before the president returns from Armenia.

“A meeting between President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri could take place after the president’s return from Armenia on Friday,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

The source said the problem of Druze representation in the next government might be on its way to being resolved after former MP Walid Joumblatt recently signaled his readiness to compromise over his bloc’s Cabinet share.

“There remains the problem of the Lebanese Forces’ representation. Hariri is making efforts to resolve this problem,” the source said.

Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, has long insisted on naming the three ministers set aside for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet, seemingly with the intent of excluding his Druze rival, MP Talal Arslan, an ally of the Free Patriotic Movement.In fact, Joumblatt Monday renewed his readiness for compromise. “Enough building palaces of paper. Circumstances do not allow this luxury. The [public] debt meter is increasing in every minute as a result of squandering [of public funds], corruption and random spending,” he tweeted. “There is no one or a conference to save us. A compromise is essential and there is no shame in making concessions for the sake of the nation,” he added.

Political sources said Hariri’s efforts to form a new government would not be affected by Aoun’s travel. “Hariri is holding behind-the-scene consultations with the political parties directly concerned with the remaining barriers to the formation of a new government,” a political source close to the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star.

Another political source had told The Daily Star Sunday that Hariri was determined to move ahead with his attempts to form a new government, unperturbed by the wave of pessimism that swept the country as a result of the controversial criterion proposed by Bassil, the FPM leader, for the representation of major parliamentary blocs in the new government.

MTV said Hariri still insisted on the first draft Cabinet formula he had presented to Aoun last month and would not consider Bassil’s proposed criterion that calls for one minister for five MPs. Bassil’s proposal seemingly appeared to target the LF which, having boosted its MPs from eight to 15 in the May parliamentary elections, has been demanding a significant Cabinet share of five ministers.

LBCI channel quoted LF sources as saying that after Bassil’s news conference last Friday during which he announced the controversial criterion proposal, negotiations over the Cabinet formation have been stalled and there would be no new development before Aoun’s return from Armenia.

The FPM and the LF, the country’s two major Christian parties, have been locked for more than four months in a fierce struggle over Christian representation in the next government.

The LF has rejected Bassil’s criterion and renewed its demand for five ministers, or one-third of the 15 ministerial posts set aside for Christians in a 30-member government.

The head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc implicitly accused Saudi Arabia of hindering the government formation in Lebanon, a charge that Saudi officials have constantly denied.

“Those who obstruct the formation of our government are the same ones who previously detained our prime minister,” MP Mohammad Raad said at a memorial ceremony in the southern town of Nabatieh. He was referring to an incident in November 2017 when Hariri suddenly announced his resignation, which was later rescinded, from Riyadh.

“We must shout and say that a government must be formed. Our government must be formed by the national will of our people and the will of their political forces,” Raad said. “How can we preserve our sovereignty if we can’t form our own government unless the veto that is obstructing the government formation from abroad is lifted.”

Meanwhile, Egypt appeared to be concerned over the delay in the formation of a new government. This was relayed by Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Nazih Naggari in his meetings with Aoun, Berri and Hariri.

“I discussed with Prime Minister Hariri the situation in Lebanon and the formation of the government. I also conveyed to the President of the Republic and the Parliament speaker Cairo’s keenness on the formation of a government in order to preserve Lebanon and its stability,” Naggari told reporters after meeting Hariri at his Beirut Downtown residence Monday evening.

“I also conveyed to the Prime Minister-designate this keenness and I expressed Egypt’s support for him in his quest to complete his mission as soon as possible, in order to preserve the stability of the country and contribute to maintaining the stability of the Arab region as a whole,” he added.

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