SUN 12 - 7 - 2020
Date: Nov 12, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Hezbollah role seen blocking salvation govt
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Apprehensive of an alleged U.S. plan to isolate it from the next government after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned last month under pressure of nationwide street protests, Hezbollah appeared adamant on being represented in the next Cabinet, political sources said Monday.

Meanwhile, President Michel Aoun is set to talk on the current political and economic crisis during a televised dialogue with Lebanese journalists at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the same day as Christophe Varno, responsible for France’s MENA affairs, is set to arrive in Beirut to press officials for the quick formation of a new government.

“Hezbollah supports Hariri to form a new government in which it wants to be represented as it fears alleged U.S. attempts to isolate it. Hezbollah also does not object to [caretaker] Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil being excluded from the new government as a means to appease the protesters,” a political source told The Daily Star.

Hezbollah’s insistence on being represented in the next government comes amid mounting domestic calls for the formation of a so-called “salvation government” made up of independent technocrats that would exclude politicians as demanded by hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who have staged a popular uprising since Oct. 17 calling for sweeping political and economic reforms in the country’s confessional-based ruling system.

Therefore, Hezbollah’s demand appears to be posing a stumbling block to the formation of a new Cabinet that is badly needed to cope with a host of urgent political, financial, economic and poor public services problems, the source said.

A meeting over the weekend that brought together Hariri, caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a top aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a political adviser to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, failed to reach any concrete results on the shape of the new government.

Saturday’s meeting at Hariri’s Downtown Beirut residence came after Bassi had been convinced by Hezbollah to stay out of the new government to placate the protesters. Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, had been reviled by the protesters during their mass street protests in Beirut and other cities.

Nearly two weeks after Hariri resigned, bringing down his 30-member Cabinet, Aoun has yet to set a date for holding binding consultations with MPs to appoint a new premier. Aoun has asked the government to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new Cabinet is formed.

An official source had told The Daily Star that Aoun was holding behind-the-scene consultations with all the parties, including Hariri, in an attempt to agree on the shape of the next Cabinet, whether it should be a technocratic government, or a mixed politico-technocratic government.

Feeling the pinch of snowballing street protests, Hariri, who is considered a leading contender for the premiership, is reportedly insisting on a technocratic government that will exclude politicians, while Hezbollah views such a move with suspicion. The Iran-backed party argued that since the U.S. and Israel had failed to crush Hezbollah during Israel’s 34-day on Lebanon in 2006, there might be renewed American attempts to isolate the group from the next government with the aim of undercutting its growing influence in internal Lebanese politics.

Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar warned the country was heading toward a socio-economic and financial collapse if a salvation Cabinet was not formed quickly.

Asked who was obstructing the formation of a salvation government, Hajjar said: “The one who is being targeted most by the protesters,” in an implicit reference to Bassil.

Hajjar spoke to The Daily Star shortly after the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc called for the formation of a government of “specialists” to restore public confidence, in what appeared to be a show of support for Hariri’s push for a technocratic Cabinet.“The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc discussed the situation in the country and highly appreciated Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s responsible attitudes toward preserving the people’s freedom to demonstrate and express their opinion peacefully,” Hajjar said in a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by Sidon MP Bahia Hariri.

The bloc also appreciated Hariri’s “strenuous efforts to set the stage for a transitional period in which a government of specialists will shoulder the responsibility to restore confidence and work to tackle the people’s social, economic and living problems in line with the rightful demands of the popular movement.”

Signs of a continuing deadlock in the Cabinet issue were reflected in Nasrallah’s televised speech Monday which was mostly devoted to fighting corruption, rather than proposing a solution to the crisis.

The Hezbollah leader said combating corruption should be Lebanon’s priority, saying the party was ready to cooperate with the judiciary in cases involving its members.

“If there is any case related to a Hezbollah official, I urge you to start with us, and I guarantee Hezbollah’s respect,” Nasrallah said, addressing the Higher Judicial Council during a televised speech on the 26th day of widespread protests.

Nasrallah made sparse comments on the issue of a new government demanded by the protesters, “When it comes to the government formation ... the meetings are ongoing and the discussions are underway in the country,” he said. “I will not discuss this matter ... and we will leave the door open.”

The Hezbollah leader said that there had been many different demands put forward by protesters over the more than three weeks of demonstrations, but claimed that the main united demands were fighting corruption and returning looted public funds.

“After what has happened, no one can protect a corrupt person,” Nasrallah said.

Although Nasrallah did not touch on the shape of the new Cabinet, caretaker Youth and Sports Minister Mohammad Fneish, one of three Hezbollah ministers in the caretaker Cabinet, called for the formation of a new government that did not follow “foreign dictates,” a term used by Hezbollah to refer to U.S. conditions.

“What is required is the quick formation of a government without foreign dictates or subservience to foreign pressure,” Fneish told a memorial ceremony in the southern city of Tyre.

In his latest attempt to reassure depositors, Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh made no changes to Banque du Liban’s strategy Monday, confirming that the currency peg would remain, no capital controls would be implemented and there would be no haircut on customers’ bank deposits.

Speaking at a highly anticipated news conference, Salameh said that his first and main goal would be to “preserve the stability of the Lebanese pound,” confirming that “we have the capabilities for that.”

Meanwhile, Berri announced the legislative session in Parliament, planned for Tuesday, has been postponed for security reasons.

The speaker’s announcement follows growing opposition to the session taking place, with critics asserting that it is unconstitutional and fails to respond to the demands of protesters.

The session had been scheduled by Berri, so that lawmakers could vote on draft laws related to corruption, a general amnesty and elderly pensions. Another parliamentary session to elect committee members had also been scheduled to take place Tuesday.

Unconvinced by the legislative session’s agenda, which was shared widely on social media, activists and protesters called for a general strike for Tuesday in their latest tactics to exert pressure on authorities to fulfill their demands. They also circulated images online suggesting that roads leading to Parliament be blocked and that MPs be held in session until they respond to the demands of protesters.

“Regarding the session, in view of the prevailing situation and the unstable security situation, it’s my duty as Parliament speaker and as a bloc of MPs we see that adherence security comes before anything else. For this reason, I postponed the session set for Tuesday until Tuesday Nov. 19 with the same agenda,” Berri told reporters after chairing a meeting of his parliamentary Development and Liberation bloc at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

He said the bloc had decided to ask all its members, including its head, current and former ministers, to lift their banking secrecy from their accounts.

In addition to the government’s resignation, the protesters are also demanding the end of the sectarian political system, the removal of the ruling political elite, early parliamentary elections, the formation of a technocratic government and the return of stolen public funds, among other basic demands such as electricity, water and jobs.

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