TUE 26 - 3 - 2019
Date: Nov 8, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Hezbollah: No compromise on Sunni MPs’ representation
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Despite growing criticism of its role in the Cabinet formation process, Hezbollah does not appear to be willing to compromise over its support for a demand by independent Sunni lawmakers for representation, the last remaining hurdle to the formation, senior party officials said Wednesday.

“From the very beginning, we have supported the independent Sunni MPs in their demand to be represented in the new government. These MPs have a weighty representation and have the right to be represented in the government under the criterion used in the formation of a national unity Cabinet,” caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish, one two Hezbollah ministers in the outgoing Cabinet, told The Daily Star.

“We support these MPs’ right to be represented in the new Cabinet,” he said.

Asked how the problem of the six so-called “independent” Sunni MPs not affiliated with the Future Movement would eventually be resolved in order to clear the way for the Cabinet formation, which has been deadlocked for nearly six months, Fneish said: “The solution to this problem lies with the prime minister-designate in understanding with the president.”

Hezbollah head Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is expected to reaffirm the party’s support for the Sunni MPs’ representation in a speech he will deliver Saturday marking Hezbollah’s “Martyr Day,” thus ruling out any softening of the party’s tough stance on this issue.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who stood firm on his refusal to cede a seat from the Future Movement’s share in Cabinet to those Sunni MPs who are demanding to be represented in the government, is unlikely to change his position.

“Prime Minister Hariri is as adamant as ever on his refusal to name any of the six Sunni MPs a minister in the next government. He still insists on confining the Sunni representation to the Future Movement,” a source close to the premier-designate told The Daily Star.

President Michel Aoun has backed Hariri’s position on the issue, saying that the six Sunni lawmakers did not have a right to representation because they were not part of a single parliamentary bloc.

A national unity government embracing all the main political parties appeared ready to be announced late last month after the last major hurdle over the Lebanese Forces’ representation had been resolved. But the Cabinet formation has since been stalled by a last-minute snag over the issue of representing independent Sunni MPs.

Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem escalated the party’s stance by saying last week that the next Cabinet would not be complete if the Sunni MPs outside the Future Movement were not represented.

With Aoun, Hariri and Hezbollah refusing to budge on their positions on this issue, this risked throwing the country into an open-ended crisis with all the dire consequences this entails for the country’s stability and ailing economy

Hariri’s absence from the country has put the Cabinet formation process on hold. Hariri, who has been in France on a private visit since last week, was not expected to return to Beirut before attending the Paris Peace Forum, which will run from Nov. 11-13.

In a snub to Hezbollah’s support for those Sunni MPs, the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc said Tuesday the demand by those MPs for representation in the Cabinet was impossible to meet and was intended to obstruct the formation.

Reflecting his pessimism about the Cabinet formation, Speaker Nabih Berri renewed his call for “prayers” to break the deadlock. “There is nothing new on the governmental level. We still need prayers,” Berri was quoted as saying during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

MP Ali Bazzi from Berri’s parliamentary bloc said the speaker has not been TRYING TO mediate to resolve the problem over the six Sunni MPs’ representation.Berri, who has called for a two-day legislative session next week to debate and endorse a raft of draft laws, defended his decision despite the absence of a new Cabinet. “We are in [Parliament’s] ordinary cycle. Legislation of necessity is more than essential. Parliament is the master of itself and it is normal for it to perform its national responsibilities and duty,” Berri said.

The six independent Sunni MPs stepped up their demand for representation in the new government, accusing Hariri of creating obstacles to the formation by rejecting their demand.

“The one responsible for this crisis actually is the one who overrides rightful demands according to equations set for the formation process and who considers the representation [of six Sunni MPs] as a political suicide,” MP Abdel-Rahim Mrad told reporters after a meeting of the six Sunni MPs at his residence. “The one who is putting obstacles is the prime minister-designate and those who support him in this biased campaign that lacks keenness on a national unity government.”

“It is unfair to let the Future Movement monopolize the representation of the Sunni community and eliminate the other components,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Maronite Church called for eliminating the last-minute hitches to the Cabinet formation so that the government could be announced before Independence Day on Nov. 22.

“While the Lebanese people, who are reeling under the burden of the socio-economic crisis, were waiting after five months for the formation of a new government ... and after the prime minister-designate and the president had agreed on a Cabinet formula after all obstacles had been resolved, they were disappointed due to the last-minute problem that stopped everything,” a statement issued after the monthly meeting of the Maronite Council of Bishops said. The meeting was chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai at his seat in Bkirki.

“The bishops call for eliminating last-minute obstacles to the announcement of the new government ... so that it can be a gift ahead of Independence Day, which is two weeks away,” the statement said. The bishops’ meeting came a day after Rai sent a message to Hezbollah, urging the party to help in eliminating obstacles facing the Cabinet formation process.

Berri: Government formation 'still needs prayers'

BEIRUT: Lebanon “still needs prayers” to see its government formed, Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying in local media reports Tuesday, after his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

“There is nothing new on the governmental level. We still need prayers,” Berri reportedly said at the meeting, lamenting the deadlocked government formation process.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a government on May 24, but more than five months later, his efforts have yet to cause a breakthrough due to various obstacles, the last of which was a demand by “independent” Sunni MPs for representation in the Cabinet.

The group of six Sunni MPs who are outside Hariri’s Future Movement are requesting to be represented by one minister, a request that has been rejected by Hariri and President Michel Aoun, but supported by both Berri and Hezbollah.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Amal Movement MP Ali Bazzi said that Berri has not been mediating to resolve the issue of the Sunni MPs' representation.

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