MON 17 - 6 - 2019
Date: Jan 3, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Fresh ideas rekindle hope for Cabinet
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have agreed on a roadmap aimed at speeding up the formation of a new government ahead of an Arab economic summit scheduled in Beirut later this month, political sources said Wednesday.

Aoun and Hariri also discussed during their meeting Tuesday a formula that could lead to resolving the problem of representing six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs in the new government, the last remaining hurdle to the formation, a political source familiar with the formation process told The Daily Star.

“Aoun and Hariri have agreed on accelerating steps designed to form a new government before the Arab economic summit,” the source said. He added that Lebanese leaders are coming under pressure to form a new Cabinet ahead of the 2019 Arab Economic and Social Development summit slated to be held in Beirut on Jan. 19-20.

According to the source, Aoun and Hariri discussed, among other things, a proposal to represent the six Sunni lawmakers from the president’s share with a candidate from outside their group, known as the “Consultative Gathering.”

“While this candidate will exclusively represent the Consultative Gathering and be part of the president’s share, he will not belong to the Strong Lebanon bloc,” the source said, referring to the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary bloc headed by FPM leader and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

The Aoun-Hariri talks on the Cabinet impasse on the first day of the new year have moved the stalled formation efforts into full gear, a source at Baabda Palace said, referring to a meeting held Wednesday between the premier-designate and Bassil.

Bassil said he presented Hariri with “several ideas” to help break Cabinet formation deadlock, now in its eighth month.

“We discussed several ideas with the prime minister and we agreed to continue efforts and necessary contacts with all those concerned with this issue [Cabinet formation]. We will later meet to evaluate the issue,” Bassil told reporters after the more than two-hour meeting with Hariri at the latter’s Downtown residence. “We have begun work on the Cabinet issue which is the compulsory pathway for any productive and useful work for the country,” he said. “We will spare no means or idea to present them. There are many ideas.”

The FPM leader had been blamed for thwarting an initiative launched by Aoun last month to resolve the issue of representing the six MPs from outside the Future Movement.

Last month, the six MPs withdrew their support for Jawad Adra, one of four candidates they proposed, because they said he did not consider himself as the sole representative of the group.

Bassil reportedly wanted Adra to be part of the Strong Lebanon bloc, while the six MPs insisted that Adra or any other candidate they name should exclusively represent the Consultative Gathering.

Hariri, who visited Aoun Tuesday to offer his holiday greetings, said he and the president are determined to form the government as soon as possible. He warned that a government needs to be formed as Lebanon faces a difficult economic situation after months of political gridlock.

“We are very late in forming a government. We must form the government. The president and I are determined to do so. We will meet again and finish this issue as soon as possible because the country cannot continue without a government,” Hariri said after meeting Aoun at Baabda Palace.

Hariri called on all the political parties to be “humble” in their demands in order to facilitate the Cabinet formation. “There is only one hurdle that should be resolved so that we begin work,” he said, referring to the six MPs’ representation issue that has held up the Cabinet formation since October.

“There are many projects that must be implemented. The economic situation is difficult, but this is not to say it is impossible. There are many solutions, many projects and also many reforms that we can carry out,” Hariri added, expressing hope that the government would be formed before the Arab Economic Summit.

But Speaker Nabih Berri, apparently frustrated with the delay in the Cabinet formation, suggested that Hariri’s caretaker government meet to pass the 2019 draft state budget. Berri spoke during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

“Speaker Berri spoke about the possibility of the outgoing government meeting to approve the budget,” MP Ali Bazzi from Berri’s parliamentary bloc said after the meeting.

In 2017 and 2018, the outgoing government endorsed Lebanon’s first budget since 2005, but has yet to pass the 2019 budget.

According to Bazzi, Berri compared the current political situation to that of 1969, when the caretaker government under Rashid Karami passed a budget because it was considered an “urgent” matter.

Bazzi quoted Berri as saying the only solution to the country’s political and economic problems was through the creation of “a civilian state” to replace the sectarian-based ruling system.

Meanwhile, a senior Hezbollah official said he expected a new government would be formed soon, while reiterating the party’s support for a ministerial seat to the six MPs.

“We expect the government formation soon because the intentions of everyone are positive and in favor of the nation, especially amid the repeated Israeli threats and violations and the Lebanese people’s pain [over worsening economic conditions],” Mahmoud Qomati, deputy head of Hezbollah’s Political Council, told reporters after holding talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai on the Cabinet crisis. Qomati led a Hezbollah delegation to extend the party’s holiday greetings to Rai.

Qomati said he assured the patriarch that all those concerned with the Cabinet formation are serious in forming it. “There is no external obstacle,” he said, adding that the issue of representing the six MPs that had delayed the Cabinet formation was being tackled now.

Qomati also stressed that Hezbollah’s relationship with Aoun and the FPM was “solid,” a week after the president seemed to accuse Hezbollah of creating “new traditions” in the Cabinet formation. He added that Hezbollah did not mind Aoun and the FPM being allocated 11, 12 or 13 ministers that would grant them a veto power in a 30-member Cabinet.

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