SUN 23 - 2 - 2020
Date: Jan 21, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: Rift over Cabinet size holding up formation
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab’s refusal to increase the number of ministers from 18 to 20 to resolve the problem of representation of two Hezbollah-allied parties is holding up the formation of a new government, political sources said Monday. This comes as Diab is struggling against the backdrop of escalating street violence between anti-government protesters and security forces to form an 18-member Cabinet of specialists designed to halt the country’s slide toward economic collapse and security chaos.

“The prime minister-designate’s refusal to increase the Cabinet members to 20 in order to add two seats, one for the Christians and one for the Druze, is hindering the formation of the government,” a political source familiar with the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star.

The source said that adding the two ministerial seats would resolve the problem of representing the Marada Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the last remaining hurdles to the government formation.

Diab has consistently rejected requests by the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, which nominated Diab to form a new government, to increase the number of ministers to 20 or 24, insisting on an 18-member government made up of experts.

Meanwhile, France Monday reiterated the urgent need for the formation of a new government in Lebanon capable of carrying out the reforms demanded by protesters.

“In the serious economic and social crisis that Lebanon is going through, and in light of recent violence, it is urgent that a new government puts in place a credible set of reforms to meet the expectations expressed by the Lebanese for more than three months,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement released by the French Embassy in Beirut.

Referring to the weekend’s violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Beirut that left nearly 500 people injured, the statement said: “France is concerned by the violence seen in recent days in Lebanon. It emphasizes the need for protesters’ legitimate aspirations to be expressed peacefully and reaffirms its commitment to the right to protest.” Diab met Monday with senior officials from the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, and Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh in his latest attempt to overcome the hurdles over the Marada and SSNP representation.

However, no breakthrough was made during the meeting held at Diab’s residence in Beirut and brought together in addition to the premier-designate and Frangieh, 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. Diab hosted a lunch for the three officials.

“The participants made minor progress that was not sufficient to clear the way for the formation of the government. More talks are planned to break the deadlock over the Marada and SSNP representation,” a source close to Berri told The Daily Star.

Frangieh is demanding another ministry, in addition to the Public Works portfolio that is allotted to the Marada in the 18-member government.

Frangieh is set to talk about his party’s participation in the Cabinet at a news conference Tuesday after having postponed it from Saturday.

Similarly, the SSNP, which has a three-member bloc in the 128-member Parliament, is demanding a ministerial post in the government.

The SSNP, backed by Diab, wants the Economy Ministry to be allotted to Amal Haddad, the former head of the Beirut Bar Association, while the Free Patriotic Movement, backed by Aoun, has proposed Ayman Haddad, an economist, for the economy portfolio.

In the leaked Cabinet lineup of 18 specialists, the Melkite-Greek Catholic sect was allotted one ministry.

Patriarch of the Melkite-Greek Catholic Church, Youssef Absi Monday chaired a meeting the sect’s lawmakers to discuss the Greek Catholic representation in the new government. A statement issued after the meeting “underlined the need to respect justice in sectarian representation [in government] as stipulated by the Lebanese Constitution.”

The problem of representing the Druze sect has been solved by allotting two ministries, including the industry portfolio, to one Druze minister, a source at Baabda Palace had told The Daily Star.

Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday called on politicians to stop procrastinating and form a new government that can prevent the country’s economic collapse.

“The continuation of the caretaker government is not the solution. So let’s stop wasting time and have the [new] government assume the responsibility,” Hariri wrote on Twitter.

“What is required urgently is a new government that will achieve, at a minimum, an opening in the deadlock and stop the cycle of collapse and the economic and security repercussions that are aggravated by the day.”

“Our government resigned in order to move to a new government that can deal with popular changes, but obstruction has continued for 90 days and the country is moving toward the unknown,” Hariri wrote.

Also Monday, Hariri met with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, following a recent war of words between the two.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting held at Hariri’s Beirut Downtown residence, Joumblatt described the government being formed by Diab as “one-sided.”

“When there were so-called governments of national unity, they invented a veto power. But today there is a one-sided government and they are at odds with each other,” he said.

Joumblatt has said the PSP’s bloc will not participate in the next government. Neither will the blocs of the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party, leaving Diab with the choice of forming a “one-sided” government that represents only the FPM, the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies.

Addressing the protesters, Joumblatt, who had criticized the clashes in Beirut, said: “Violence will not pay off.”

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