Cabinet breakthrough hinges on ceasing obstruction: Future Movement officials

The president and the premier-designate would meet soon to explore an appropriate solution for the stalled formation of a new government as soon as possible: Lebanese PM

  
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun heads the first meeting of the new cabinet at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020.

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun heads the first meeting of the new cabinet at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT: A possible meeting between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is unlikely to succeed in breaking the monthslong Cabinet deadlock unless obstruction of the government formation is halted, Future Movement officials said Wednesday.

This comes as caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab Tuesday met with Aoun and Hariri as part of an initiative aimed at achieving a breakthrough in the Cabinet impasse by setting the stage for an ice-breaking meeting between the president and the premier-designate following rising tensions between the two leaders over a leaked video that have brought the government formation process back to square one.

Diab, who had also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri as part of his effort, announced after his talks with Aoun that the president and the premier-designate would meet soon to explore an appropriate solution for the stalled formation of a new government as soon as possible.

Asked whether a meeting between Aoun and Hariri, who have not met in nearly a month, could be held this week, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star Wednesday: “It is not clear yet how Prime Minister Diab’s initiative will develop.”

While Diab’s surprise activity had been welcomed and raised some hope for resolving the Cabinet formation crisis, now in its sixth month, however, there were doubts in political circles on whether the caretaker premier’s initiative would bear fruit, given the fact that a French initiative from September to rescue Lebanon has remained stalled after rival Lebanese leaders failed to agree on the swift formation of a “mission government” to implement a slew of economic and administrative reforms stipulated in the initiative.

Similarly, Aoun has not yet responded to Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai’s call on him to invite Hariri for a “reconciliation” meeting to agree on the swift formation of a new government. It was the second call to be made in less than month by the Maronite patriarch who is trying to narrow differences between the president and the premier-designate over the Cabinet formation.

“In order for a potential meeting between President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri to succeed in breaking the Cabinet deadlock, the president’s team and [Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran] Bassil must stop the means of obstruction,” Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar told The Daily Star.

Asked what the means of obstruction were, Hajjar said: “Demands for veto power in the next government, insistence on controlling security ministries such as the Justice and Interior, and insistence on representing political parties in the government.”

He added that Aoun and his team must accept a Cabinet lineup made up of 18 nonpartisan specialists Hariri presented to the president on Dec.9.

Future officials have said that Hariri is still waiting for a response from Aoun to the Cabinet lineup, his first since his designation on Oct. 22. Aoun responded to Hariri’s suggested Cabinet list with a counter-Cabinet proposal that was viewed as a rejection of the premier-designate’s lineup.

Hajjar said Hariri stood firm on his proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan, competent specialists who have integrity to enact reforms stipulated in the French initiative to halt the country’s economic collapse.

“With such a government that does not grant veto power to any party, we can discuss a solution to the crisis under this ceiling. Such a government can make the [Aoun-Hariri] meeting successful and produce a solution to the Cabinet crisis,” Hajjar said.

He added that Diab’s endeavor was aimed at reactivating the stalled Cabinet formation process following tensions that arose from a leaked video in which Aoun was seen in the presence of Diab at Baabda Palace calling Hariri a liar.

“Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has done what is dictated on him by the Constitution. He held binding parliamentary consultations, held 14 meetings with the president and presented him with a Cabinet lineup and is waiting for the president’s opinion according to Article 53 in the Constitution. But so far this has not happened,” Hajjar said. He added that the leaked video was “disgraceful to the republic’s position rather than to Hariri.”

Lebanon has been left without a fully functioning government since Diab’s Cabinet resigned on Aug. 10 in the aftermath of the massive explosion that devastated Beirut Port, although it has been serving in a caretaker capacity.

Long-simmering tensions between the president and the premier-designate, who last month publicly traded accusations of responsibility for obstructing the formation of an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists, came to a head on Jan. 11 when Aoun was seen in a leaked video calling Hariri a liar.

Aoun’s accusation has exacerbated the impasse in the Cabinet formation process, already stalled by a disagreement between the president and the premier-designate over the distribution of key ministries. The video episode has deepened a crisis of confidence between the two leaders and ramped up political tensions in the crises-ridden country.

Departing from the common escalation adopted by Bassil against Hariri since his designation, the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc, the largest bloc in Parliament with 24 MPs, renewed Tuesday its call on the premier-designate to “come out from the state of standstill and contact the president so that they can together form the promised reform-minded government according to the principles of the [National] Pact and rules of the Constitution.”

But MP Mario Aoun from the Strong Lebanon bloc urged Hariri to either step down or form a new government quickly. “Prime Minister Hariri must step down if he is unable to form a government because the people can no longer wait,” Mario Aoun told a local radio station. He called for the formation of a small Cabinet of six ministers to take office and begin work.

Future officials have said Hariri would not bow to pressure from Aoun and Bassil aimed at pushing him to step down or meet their conditions for the Cabinet formation.

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis warned against the consequences of the country being left without a functioning government.

“Will the new administration in Washington finally move the [Lebanese] parties to create a new government led by PM Saad Hariri? A new government doesn’t automatically mean the end of the crisis, but no government just contributes to deepening of the collapse & the suffering of the people,” Kubis tweeted.

He praised Diab’s visit to Hariri as “a strong, courageous and positive move that can help overcome the current deadlock in the government formation process.’’

“I hope other steps and gestures of wisdom for the sake of Lebanon and its people will follow soon,” Kubis added.

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