SAT 15 - 8 - 2020
Jul 4, 2020
The Daily Star
Calls for Lebanese Cabinet change gaining ground after failure to resolve crisis
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Calls for a Cabinet change are gathering steam as Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has failed to deal with the crippling economic and financial crisis and enact long-delayed reforms, essential to securing financial aid to the cash-strapped country.
This came in a flurry of intensified political activity Thursday involving Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri with local media saying it focused on a possible a Cabinet change as the crisis-hit country descended deeper into economic and financial turmoil.
Amid the increasing talk on a possible Cabinet change, Hariri said he was not seeking to return to the premiership.
“I am not rushing to become a prime minister, nor I am thinking of becoming a prime minister. I have not spoken with anyone and no one is negotiating with me [on returning to the premiership],” Hariri said during a chat with reporters at his Downtown Beirut residence.
Hariri, who had previously said he would not form a new government with the participation of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil, said: “I have conditions to return to the premiership and full stop. The country needs an entirely different way of work. If we don’t abandon a sharing of [political spoils], and other things, nothing will change ...I will not cover anyone close to me if he wants to head a government.”
Saying he did not consider himself to be “a savior of Lebanon,” Hariri said: “I had made concessions for three years at the expense of my popular base to save the country and not for the sake of the premiership seat. A proof of this was that I responded to the people’s demand and resigned.”
Hariri resigned last October under pressure of an unprecedented nationwide popular uprising that demanded, among other things, the government’s resignation, a change of the country’s confessional-based ruling system and the ouster of the entrenched political elite blamed by protesters for corruption and mismanagement.
Hariri reiterated his call on the government to carry out key economic reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund.
“We have an economic crisis and reforms are required. I have heard what Prime Minister Diab said. He did not talk about electricity and reforms. He only attacked the diplomatic corps which we need to help Lebanon,” Hariri said.
In a clear allusion to Hezbollah, whose officials constantly attack Arab Gulf states, Hariri said: “The dissociation [policy] was not respected in my governments. A group continued to criticize Gulf states from which we are seeking assistance.”
Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli said after a meeting with Hariri that Lebanon must work to find an alternative government. He even called on Diab to help facilitate the formation of a new government in an implicit call to the prime minister to step aside.
Asked whether it was time to change the government, which has been in office barely for six months, Ferzli told reporters after meeting Hariri at his Downtown Beirut residence: “I personally believe, with all due respect to the current government with its members and prime minister, that reconsidering the government composition has become necessary. I call upon his Excellency Prime Minister Diab to work in order to facilitate finding an alternative government that can help find solutions in the Lebanese society.”
Ferzli, who belongs to the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc headed by Bassil, said that the socio-economic situation in the country was not reassuring and warned of a further deterioration.
“It will probably deteriorate further in a negative manner and there are no positive signs. I think, in my capacity as deputy in the Lebanese Parliament, that the necessary steps must be carried out, in order to think of the means of salvation, or at least put the country on the path of salvation,” Ferzli said. “The main way to do this is to contact the political leaders who represent the real and true components of the Lebanese society. We all agree that [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri is one of the main entries, and even the main entry, to reunite the Lebanese.”
The economic deterioration and the unchecked collapse of the Lebanese pound were among topics discussed during a meeting between Bassil and Berri.
Bassil did not speak to reporters after the 90-minute meeting held at Berri’s Ain al-Tineh residence. Local media said the two agreed on a set of steps, mainly that the Central Bank takes action to curb the rising rate of the dollar on the black market as a condition to avert any social unrest.
Berri and Bassil also agreed that Lebanon’s current negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a $10 billion bailout package were an “essential option” to help the country overcome its economic crisis.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt said Diab’s Cabinet was out of touch with the tragic situation in the country.
“It seems that this government and the angels protecting it have lost all contact with the tragic situation and the collapse that is happening and is living in another world, imaging fictitious conspiracies and besieging itself by itself,” Joumblatt tweeted. “It’s the government of naught, bankdrupty and starvation.”
But three ministers ruled out the resignation of the government.
“The government will not resign,” Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told reporters after a Cabinet session chaired by Diab at the Grand Serail.
Responding to calls from opposition groups and anti-government protesters for the government’s resignation, Industry Minister Imad Hoballah, one of two ministers representing Hezbollah in the Cabinet, said: “We will not abandon our responsibilities.”
Information Minister Manal Abdel-Samad said after the Cabinet session: “The resignation becomes possible when we don’t do our duties. But we are doing our duties.”
Meanwhile, Diab promised to face attempts to starve the Lebanon. He said his government had almost regained control of the free-falling Lebanese pound, despite critical bailout negotiations with the IMF being stalled.
“The government is working to break the link between the dollar price and the cost of living. We are in the final stage of accomplishing this task,” Diab said during a Cabinet session he chaired at the Grand Serail.
Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh and the head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon Salim Sfeir attended part of that session, adding impetus to efforts to stabilize the collapsing currency.
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