MON 27 - 1 - 2020
Date: Jan 3, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Diab seeks to form new government this week
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab is striving to iron out remaining hitches over the representation of the Christian and Sunni sects in hope of announcing the formation of a new government this week, political sources said Thursday.

“After having solved the problems of the Shiite and Druze representation, Prime Minister-designate Diab is now concentrating on overcoming hurdles over the Sunni and Christian representation that are delaying the government formation,” a political source familiar with the Cabinet formation efforts told The Daily Star.

“The representation of the Sunni sect is on its way to being resolved after Diab proposed an independent candidate, retired Judge Fawzi Adham, to assume the key Interior Ministry portfolio,” the source said.

In a bid to resolve the problem of Christian representation in an 18-member government of specialists planned by the premier-designate, Diab held a six-hour meeting Thursday with caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, the source said.

The source added that the meeting, which included a lunch and was held at Diab’s residence in Beirut’s Tallet al-Khayyat area, ended on a “positive note” with regard to Christian representation. As in the outgoing Cabinet, the Defense, Foreign, Justice and Energy ministries will be allotted to the FPM.

“The positive Diab-Bassil talks have boosted optimism about forming the government over the weekend,” the source said. “The next couple of days will witness a flurry of intensified activity designed to narrow differences and iron out remaining hitches to clear the way for the formation of a new government.”

The FPM, one of the three main Christian parties with the largest bloc in Parliament, was expected to grab all Christian portfolios after the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party had told Diab they would not participate in the next government.

In a rebuff to his designation, the Future Movement, along with the LF, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb Party have told Diab they would not take part in the government. Diab was designated to form a new government by President Michel Aoun on Dec. 19 after gaining the support of a parliamentary majority and after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrew from the premiership race.

According to the same source, the Druze representation hurdle had been resolved by allocating two ministerial portfolios to a Druze figure, Ramzi Mushrafiyeh, who is acceptable to the two rival Druze leaders, PSP chief former MP Walid Joumblatt and MP Talal Arslan, head of the Lebanese Democratic Party.

Similarly, the two main Shiite parties, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, have dropped their demand to retain one minister each in the next government, the source said.

Hezbollah had wanted to keep Jamil Jabak as health minister, while the Amal Movement wanted to retain Hasan Lakkis as agriculture minister. “The two groups have now proposed names of new candidates to Diab,” the source said.

Aoun was reported to have insisted on retaining caretaker Minister for Presidency Affairs Salim Jreissati, and Bassil wanted Nada Boustani, who belongs to the FPM, to keep her post as energy minister.

Diab had said after his designation that he did not want any minister from the outgoing Cabinet to be in the new government.

But the absence of the Future Movement, the LF, the PSP and the Kataeb Party is bound to label Diab’s government as “one-sided” or “confrontational” as it will comprise only representatives of the FPM, the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies.

This possibility might raise concerns of the international community, which had made financial aid to the protest-hit, cash-strapped country conditional on the formation of an “effective and credible” government committed to implementing key reforms to bolster the flagging economy.

During a meeting with Aoun at Baabda Palace Thursday, French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher reiterated his country’s desire for the “formation of a new government that fulfills the aspirations of the Lebanese in this stage,” the state-run National News Agency reported.

The French Foreign Ministry said last week the International Support Group for Lebanon was ready to extend financial support for the country once a new “effective and credible” government was formed to enact reforms to rescue the economy.

Nevertheless, all eyes will be focused on a meeting of the Higher Islamic Council to be chaired by Grand Mufti Abdel-Latif Derian Saturday after which a statement will be issued outlining the position of Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s highest Sunni religious authority, on Diab’s designation.

On the 78th day of the popular uprising, hundreds of protesters gathered Thursday evening outside the entrance to Nijmeh Square where the Parliament building is located which is sealed off by a security cordon.

Dozens of Lebanese gathered in front of Beirut’s Port to protest against illegal smuggling and the alleged corruption of customs, the NNA reported. Activists say Beirut Port, Lebanon’s key trade hub, which is estimated to earn the state over $1 billion in revenue each year, is a glaring example of corruption in state institutions.

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