THU 14 - 11 - 2019
Date: Oct 31, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Hezbollah escalation stalls Cabinet
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Hezbollah’s toughening stance on the representation of Sunni lawmakers from outside the Future Movement is threatening to serve a crippling blow to Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s efforts to form a new government, officials said Tuesday.

The problem appears to have shattered hopes for the formation of a national unity government by the second anniversary of President Michel Aoun’s election Wednesday.

Speaker Nabih Berri warned that the failure to represent the so-called independent Sunni MPs in the new Cabinet would complicate matters and delay the government formation, which has entered its sixth month of deadlock.

“What I fear most is the parties’ intransigence [on the issue of representing the independent Sunni MPs] will lead to delaying the birth of the government,” visitors at Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence quoted the speaker as saying.

Berri renewed his call for the quick formation of the government, saying the country faced “major challenges, at the forefront of which is the economic situation.”

He called for resolving the problem of the representation of the independent Sunni MPs, expressing hope that this issue would reach “a positive conclusion.”

“The situation in the country without a government can no longer be endured and it entails negative effects,” the speaker said.

Berri and Hezbollah have voiced support for the representation of Sunni MPs from outside the Future Movement in the government.

In a hardening of its position on the issue, Hezbollah appeared to tie its participation in the government to the representation of those Sunni MPs and has even refused to hand Hariri the names of its three candidates for the new Cabinet.

In response, Hariri stood firm on his refusal to cede a seat from his own share in Cabinet to a group of six Sunni MPs from outside the Future Movement who are demanding to be represented in the government.

Hariri, who was designated to form a new government on May 24, has even hinted at the possibility of stepping down as prime minister-designate if Hezbollah and its allies keep insisting on the representation of independent Sunni lawmakers.

Hariri Tuesday held a behind- the-scenes meeting with Aoun in an attempt to find a solution to the problem. He avoided speaking to reporters at Baabda Palace after the meeting with Aoun that lasted 1 1/2 hours.“The meeting focused on finding a solution to the problem of independent Sunni MPs’ representation. In explaining his position on the issue, Prime Minister Hariri told President Aoun he refused to represent them [independent Sunni MPs] from the Future Movement’s Cabinet share,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

The source said Hariri did not carry with him any Cabinet lineup to present to Aoun because the lineup was incomplete as Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement have so far not handed the prime minister-designate the names of their candidates for the new government.

The source warned of a “big problem” facing the Cabinet formation if no solution is found to the representation of independent Sunni MPs.

“If Hezbollah insists on not participating in the government without the representation of independent Sunni MPs, this will cause a big problem for the Cabinet formation process,” the source said. Local media outlets also quoted Hariri as telling Aoun: “Those who insist on the representation [of independent Sunnis MPs], let them do so from their own share.”

For his part, Aoun told Hariri that he refused to hand the independent Sunni MPs a seat from his own Cabinet share, a political source said.

Hariri Tuesday did not chair the weekly meeting of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc as his efforts were focused on untangling the knot over the representation of independent Sunni lawmakers.

Hariri held what was described as a “stormy meeting” two days ago with Hussein Khalil, a key political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, during which Khalil refused to hand the prime minister-designate the names of the party’s candidates for the new government, a political source told The Daily Star.

When Khalil demanded that the independent Sunni MPs be represented before Hezbollah hands over the names of its candidates, Hariri rejected the request, the source said.

Optimism soared that a national unity Cabinet lineup would be declared this week after Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced that his party would participate in the new Cabinet, effectively eliminating a major stumbling block to the formation over Christian representation.

A four-member delegation from the independent Sunni MPs held talks Tuesday separately with Berri and Khalil to lobby for their representation in the new government.

In response to Hariri’s threat to step down as prime minister-designate over the issue of independent Sunni MPs’ representation, both Berri and Hezbollah said they still supported Hariri to head the new government.

“I have no other candidate [to the premiership] than Hariri,” Berri was quoted as saying by visitors.

“It is out of the question to retreat from supporting Hariri as [premier-designate],” Khalil told reporters after meeting with the delegation of independent Sunni MPs. Khalil said Hezbollah would stand beside independent Sunni MPs in their “rightful demand” to be represented in the new government.

“They are not taking from the share of any one, but from the share of the people who elected them,” he said.

“This problem is not bigger than the problem that has been resolved,” he added, referring to the problem of the LF representation.

Tripoli MP Faisal Karami, a member of the delegation, thanked Hezbollah and Nasrallah for supporting their demand.

“We are optimistic that everyone will work quickly to eliminate obstacles and form the government soonest,” he said.

Meanwhile, Aoun is set to talk in a live open dialogue with editors of local TV stations at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on the second anniversary of his election as president, the National News Agency reported. It said Aoun would focus on the prospects of the remaining four years in his term.

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