THU 9 - 7 - 2020
Date: Jan 7, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Diab struggles to overcome obstacles
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: With anti-government protesters keeping up pressure on him to step down, Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab is still grappling to resolve remaining hurdles over the representation of the Christian and Sunni sects that are delaying the formation of a new government, officials said Sunday. “We hope to see the formation of an 18-member Cabinet of specialists being announced this week. Things are on the track of forming a new government this week,” Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli told The Daily Star.

Asked what was holding up the Cabinet formation more than two weeks after Diab was designated for the job, Ferzli said: “There are no substantial obstacles hindering the government formation. There are still details over some names [of ministers] and the distribution of ministries.” A political source said the delay in the government formation was due to ongoing talks between Diab and politicians over names of some Christian and Muslim ministers.

“The prime minister-designate is intensifying contacts with various parties to eliminate the remaining obstacles so that the government could be formed this week,” the source told The Daily Star Sunday.

The source said Diab’s choice of retired judge Fawzi Adham as interior minister had caused a “problem” within the Sunni sect, prompting the premier-designate to search for an alternative candidate.

The Cabinet formation is also stalled by caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s insistence on naming all the Christian ministers, with the exception of the Marada Movement’s minister, the source said.

Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, is also putting a veto on former minister Damianos Kattar, who was proposed by Diab to be named as foreign or economy minister, the source added.

According to the source, Bassil is insisting that the Defense, Justice and Economy ministries be part of President Michel Aoun’s Cabinet share.

Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil called for accelerating the formation of “a strong government capable of confronting political, financial and socio-economic challenges. We can say that we have made big progress and we are close to the announcement of the [new] government,” Khalil, a key aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, told a ceremony in the southern town of Al-Bissariyeh.

“We don’t care for the name or shape of the government. We want a government that will translate reform into real reform and does not depend on slogans but on actions,” added Khalil, who had participated in the Cabinet formation talks with Diab to resolve the problem of Shiite representation.

The FPM, one of the three main Christian parties with the largest bloc in Parliament, was expected to grab all Christian portfolios, except for the Marada Movement’s ministry, after the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party had told Diab that 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. 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.

Despite growing Sunni anger over Diab’s designation to form a new government, Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s highest Sunni religious authority, has not yet commented on the designation.

However, Ferzli dispelled fears of a tendency to form a “confrontational” government following a hard-line speech Sunday by Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah in which he said the U.S. military will “pay the price” for killing Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi commander in a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport Friday.

“Nasrallah did not touch on the Cabinet issue in his speech. He neutralized the Lebanese state from the [U.S.-Iranian] conflict,” Ferzli said.

A Hezbollah official told The Daily Star Friday that Lebanese officials should hasten the formation of a new government in order to cope with the political and security consequences of Soleimani’s assassination.

Aoun Friday expressed hope that a new government would be formed this week. He added that he hoped that the formation of a new government would help enhance the “positive atmosphere, especially with the countries that are willing to assist Lebanon.”

The international community has made extending 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 rescue the ailing economy. Meanwhile, dozens of protesters, defying rain, rallied near Diab’s residence in Tallet al-Khayyat Sunday, on the 81st day of the nationwide uprising, demanding that he step down.

“We are asking for the stepping down of Hassan Diab. He’s just like the rest of them and just like whoever brought him in,” a protester told Al-Jadeed TV.

“We want change for the better, so how can we accept Diab,” another better said.

Diab, a university professor, had served as education minister in former Premier Najib Mikati’s Cabinet.

“Diab’s experience as education minister was not encouraging to make us accept him as prime minister,” one protester said.

Another female protester said: “Over the past 70 days, this authority failed to fulfill the protest movement’s demands.”

A man, who said he came from Tripoli to join the sit-in near Diab’s residence, told Al-Jadeed TV channel: “We came from Tripoli to bring down Diab because he does not represent us.”

Since his designation, protesters have been skeptical about Diab’s ability to form a government that meets their demands.

Diab was designated to form a new government by Aoun on Dec. 19, after gaining the support of a parliamentary majority and after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrew from the premiership race. Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 under pressure of the nationwide protests that erupted across the country on Oct. 17, demanding an overhaul of the decadeslong sectarian system and the removal of the entire political elite they deem corrupt and incompetent.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, protesters held a sit-in in front of the police station in the Akkar town of Halba demanding the release of a detainee.

The detained man, identified as G. A., was taken into custody on the charges of assaulting a member of the security forces, the state-run National News Agency reported.

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