WED 22 - 5 - 2019
Date: Dec 6, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Bassil’s proposals fail to resolve govt impasse
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Two proposals to resolve the problem of representing six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs in the new government have failed to make any headway, dashing hopes of an imminent breakthrough in the monthslong Cabinet formation crisis, official sources said Wednesday.

One of the proposals, part of caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s mediation attempt, is to represent the six parliamentarians from President Michel Aoun’s share.

A source at Baabda Palace denied media reports that Aoun had agreed to represent one of the six MPs not affiliated with the Future Movement from his own share.

“President Aoun has repeatedly said he is ready to help in resolving the Cabinet formation crisis, but not at the expense of his own share,” the source told The Daily Star.

The source said Aoun’s share and that of the Free Patriotic Movement founded by him is 10 ministers in a 30-member Cabinet.

When told that Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk had said last week that Aoun held the key to resolving the six MPs’ representation problem by insinuating the post could come from the president’s quota, the source said: “Why do they want a solution to the problem to come from the president’s share?”

The demand by the six MPs for representation emerged as the last obstacle as Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was preparing to announce a 30-member Cabinet lineup in late October.

Hariri has rejected the MPs’ demand and also rebuffed their request to meet with him to discuss the issue.

Another proposal floated last week by Bassil as part of his mediation attempt – to increase the new government from 30 to 32 ministers to allow for the representation of one of the six MPs – appeared to unravel despite gaining the support of Berri.

The speaker expressed support for an expanded Cabinet lineup if it would help resolve the government formation deadlock.

During his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri again stressed the “need to use all energies to form the government as soon as possible.”

He briefed the 28 MPs he met on the ideas floated during Bassil’s shuttle diplomacy last week.

“Speaker Berri accepts the expansion of the new Cabinet to 32. This idea is still debatable,” MP Ali Bazzi, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, quoted the speaker as saying.

Hariri was reported to have opposed a 32-member Cabinet from the beginning, preferring a 30-member government. This was confirmed Wednesday by a senior Future Movement official.

“A proposal for a 32-member Cabinet will not solve the problem. Adding an Alawite minister and another minister from Christian minorities to the Cabinet lineup will lead nowhere,” former Future MP Mustafa Allouch told the Central News Agency.

Allouch, a member of the Future Movement’s political bureau, said a solution to the six MPs’ representation issue was through an agreement between Aoun and Hariri on a candidate to represent the six from the president’s share.

However, the MPs have toughened their stance, insisting on being represented by one of the six and on choosing the portfolio that would be allocated to them.

“We insist on being represented by one of the six MPs. We will not accept anyone from outside the six Sunni MPs to be named a minister,” Abdel-Rahim Mrad, one of the six lawmakers, told The Daily Star.

Mrad said the six were still waiting for a meeting with Hariri to discuss their push for representation.

“We are also still waiting for a meeting with Minister Bassil to discuss his latest proposals to resolve the problem” he said. Mrad was skeptical about the 32-member Cabinet proposal. “Such a proposal will not work,” he said.

Hariri met Wednesday night at his Downtown Beirut residence with MP Wael Abu Faour as a special envoy from former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party. They discussed the latest political developments in the country, including the Cabinet formation stalemate.

Hariri has said he would not change his position on his refusal to cede a seat from the Future Movement’s share to the six MPs, ruling out any compromise on the issue.

Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, returned to Beirut Wednesday after a three-day visit to Iraq. He was expected to meet with the six lawmakers to talk about his latest proposals after having discussed them with Berri and Hariri last week.

Bassil has been mediating at Aoun’s request to resolve the issue.

Bassil Wednesday chaired the weekly meeting of the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc, which affirmed its support for Bassil’s mediation attempt to break the deadlock and called for a quick government formation.

“The bloc considers that there are many solutions available [to the problem] without anyone feeling he is targeted.

“Needless to repeat the need for the formation of the government at this stage, in light of major security challenges on the border [with Israel] and the financial, economic and social issues at the internal level that necessitate the Cabinet formation at the earliest time,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan told a news conference after the meeting.

The Council of Maronite Bishops decried the delay in the Cabinet formation, saying it counted on Aoun to resolve the last remaining hurdle.

“The bishops are worried about the absence of any glimmer of hope for the Cabinet formation because each side is sticking to its demand and position,” the bishops said in a statement issued after their monthly meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.

“Because of the latest internal events, and while the economic and financial crises are worsening, the bishops renew their call on political leaders to fear God in their nation, their people and institutions.

“What is the justification for the delay in the Cabinet formation?” the statement said.

“The bishops count on the wisdom of his excellency the president to find the appropriate solution to the dilemma that is preventing the birth of the new Cabinet.”

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