“Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s option to step down has been postponed for now. The popular mood within the Future Movement is 90 percent against stepping down,” former Future Movement MP Mustapha Alloush said in a statement. He said a new government could not be formed if Hariri were to step aside.
The development coincided with reports that Hariri might present President Michel Aoun with a new Cabinet lineup of 24 nonpartisan specialists with no blocking one-third plus one [veto power] to any side in a last-ditch attempt to end the political stalemate that for 10 months has left Lebanon without a fully functioning government to tackle multiple crises, including an unprecedented economic meltdown that is threatening the Lebanese with poverty and hunger.
In tandem with the Amal Movement’s warning, Berri said he was determined to push forward with his proposal calling for the formation of a 24-member government of nonpartisan specialists with no veto power to any side.
Speaking to the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen satellite channel, Berri expressed his deep resentment with the current situation in Lebanon, warning that the continued economic and financial deterioration and the collapse of essential public services would lead to “major ruins with unforeseen consequences.”
Berri was quoted as saying that his initiative, in its third version, seeking a solution for the political and Cabinet deadlock, gained Arab, regional, international and Western approval, including France.
However, the speaker voiced his deep concern that with some politicians sticking to “impossible conditions” over the Cabinet formation, this would further complicate rather than facilitate things. Berri was apparently referring to MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, who along with Aoun, have been accused by Hariri and Future Movement MPs of blocking the government formation with their insistence on gaining veto power, something the premier-designate has vowed not to grant to any party.
Berri stressed that in his position as a Parliament speaker, he was very keen on respecting and implementing the Constitution and he would not allow the Constitution to be bypassed or violated under any pretext.
Also, Berri’s Amal Movement, in a statement issued after the weekly meeting of its politburo, slammed those who it said sought to undermine constitutional rules in the Cabinet formation process, in an indirect jab at Aoun and Bassil.
“Amal’s politburo warns of catastrophic consequences posed by scuttling Lebanon’s initiative built by Speaker Nabih Berri on the foundations of the French initiative to serve as the gateway to a reform government to rescue the country and put it on the track of pulling it out of its crises,” the statement said.
“At a time when Lebanon and the Lebanese need an effective government and institutions that will restore the presence of the state as a regulator and sponsor of citizens’ affairs, some are still bent on undermining constitutional rules in an attempt to create new norms that touch the bases of national balances and the foundations laid down by the Taif Accord,” the statement said.
It added that the “new norms” would undermine traditional rules and norms in the Cabinet formation process and would put the country in the “face of a lot of risks, disrupt the performance of institutions and cause further collapses at all levels at a time the Lebanese are in dire need of [a government] to assume responsibility to meet the health, social, economic and monetary challenges they are facing.”
Amal’s politburo also warned against the continued policy of ignoring the people’s screams and pain as they face the collapse of public services, the deteriorating economic conditions as manifested in the Lebanese pound’ free fall against the US dollar on the black market, and the severe fuel and medicine shortages that led to the shutdown of pharmacies and gas stations across the country.
Meanwhile, an official source ruled out the possibility of Hariri stepping down for now for, citing sources close to Berri and Hariri.
“There is talk about a third version of Berri’s initiative that will be presented in the next two days,” the source familiar with the matter told The Daily Star.
Asked to comment on reports that Hariri might present Aoun with a new Cabinet lineup in a bid to break the deadlock, the source said: “As long as Hariri has not yet announced his support for the 24-member Cabinet formula, this remains just media leaks. But this possibility remains because this formula has been sought by Speaker Berri and agreed on by President Aoun and most parties concerned.”
Hariri’s intention to step down reflected his frustration with the continued obstruction by Aoun and Bassil of his attempts to form a new government to rescue the country. Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar told The Daily Star that Hariri’s decision to relinquish his efforts to form a new government nearly eight months after his designation by a parliamentary majority was a “serious option.”
Hariri’s planned decision comes as the Higher Islamic Religious Council, Lebanon’s highest Sunni religious authority, headed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, threw its weight behind him in his deepening rift with Aoun, warning against infringing on the premier-designate constitutional powers.
In remarks published by Al-Joumhouria newspaper Monday, Berri upheld his support for Hariri and rejected his decision to step down. “Who is the alternative to Hariri? Do they have a convincing and real alternative capable of confronting the repercussions of the economic and social crisis and the risks of collapse?” Berri asked.
He said that the issue of changing the premier-designate was more complicated than some might thought.
Apparently responding to those seeking to push Hariri to step aside, Berri said: “They must convince me, as well as [Hezbollah leader] brother Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the Islamic Religious Council, the Higher Islamic Shiite Council, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh and Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli of the alternative [to Hariri].”
Berri also stressed that he stood firm on his initiative to resolve the Cabinet crisis. “There is no other choice and therefore I am upholding it,” he said.
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