“Hariri is likely to visit Baabda Palace next week to present President Aoun with a draft Cabinet lineup. But the visit comes amid high expectations that Aoun will reject the Cabinet lineup due to differences over the mechanism adopted by Hariri to pick by himself names of all ministers in his proposed 18-member Cabinet of specialists,” a political source familiar with the matter said. It would be Hariri’s first draft Cabinet lineup since he was designated to form a new government on Oct. 22.
Aoun and the leading political blocs reject the notion that Hariri would pick all Cabinet ministers, and they insist on naming their nominees for ministerial posts, the source said, adding: “So far, the Cabinet formation process does not appear to be easy.”
The source added that Hariri, backed by France and regional powers, was scrambling to quickly form a new Cabinet ahead of an international conference planned by France on Dec. 2 to drum up humanitarian aid to Lebanon following the Aug. 4 deadly explosion that devastated Beirut Port and destroyed large areas in the capital.
Hariri’s forthcoming visit to Baabda was confirmed Sunday by former Future MP Mustapha Alloush. “Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to visit Baabda to present President Aoun with a Cabinet lineup,” Alloush, a member of the Future Movement’s Political Bureau, said in an interview with MTV broadcaster. However, he said he was not sure whether Aoun would accept the proposed Cabinet list.
Asked what criteria Hariri was using in forming the next Cabinet, Alloush said: “Prime Minister Hariri is seeking to form an 18-member mission government made up of nonpartisan specialists. The only criterion adopted by Hariri is a government of specialists who are capable of reaching an understanding with the international community and an understanding with the International Monetary Fund [over a $10 billion bailout package].”
He added that Hariri’s proposed Cabinet would not include “members who were slapped with [US] sanctions.” Alloush was referring to the Nov. 6 imposition of US sanctions on Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil over corruption charges and his ties to Hezbollah, long labeled a terrorist organization by Washington.
The sanctions have further complicated Hariri’s attempts to form a new government, already stalled by differences with Aoun over the naming of Christian ministers, as well as by rival factions’ horse-trading for key ministerial seats. Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, responded to the US sanctions by hardening his stance and setting conditions for the formation that run counter to Hariri’s proposed 18-member Cabinet.
Alloush ruled out the possibility of Hariri stepping down for now “because such a move will further aggravate the economic situation.”
In a radio interview last week, Alloush said “Hariri is insisting on naming all the ministers,” a major bone of contention between the premier-designate and Aoun and the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc which, with 24 MPs, is the biggest bloc in Parliament with the largest Christian representation.
An official source said no date has been set yet for a meeting between Aoun and Hariri in the coming week. “When Hariri wants to come to Baabda, he will call and come,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source said Aoun and Hariri remained at odds over the naming of Christian ministers. “Nothing has changed in the [Cabinet] crisis. Hariri is still insisting on naming the Christian ministers and he has in fact named seven ministers and left the president with the remaining two Christian ministers to name [for the Interior and Defense portfolios]. But the president did not agree to this matter,” the source said, adding: “So far, there have been no new elements suggesting that a breakthrough is imminent.”
MP Mario Aoun from the Strong Lebanon bloc sounded pessimistic about the Cabinet formation soon and rejected Hariri’s decision to name all ministers.
“We don’t understand why Hariri doesn’t want to adopt a unified criterion in the Cabinet formation? He wants to name [all] ministers and everyone knows that the two Shiite groups [Amal Movement and Hezbollah] will name their ministers and Hariri will name the Sunni ministers. So why don’t the Christian parties name their ministers instead of being content with the president naming the interior and defense ministers, while the other seven [Christian] ministers remain in the custody of Hariri?” Aoun said in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anbaa.
Judging by the course of developments, Aoun said, “It seems there will be no government in the foreseeable term.”
Since his designation to form a new government, Hariri has held nine meetings with Aoun that have failed to resolve differences over the shape and makeup of an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan experts to implement a series of structural reforms outlined in the French initiative designed to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War. The reforms are deemed crucial to unlocking promised international aid to the crises-ridden country.
In his latest plea to Lebanese leaders to act to quickly form a new government to enact reforms, French President Emmanuel Macron, in a letter this week to Aoun on the 77th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence from France, stressed that the implementation of the French road map was essential to attracting international aid and averting Lebanon’s economic collapse.
Macron’s office Friday said France and the United Nations would host a new conference next week about providing humanitarian aid to Lebanon after the port blast. Macron and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will co-preside over the video conference on Dec. 2 which will also include Lebanese nongovernmental groups and other organizations seeking to help.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem cited internal and external reasons, including a reported US veto on the group’s participation in the next government, for the Cabinet crisis.
“The premier-designate should have met with heads of blocs to choose the ministers. But his decision not to meet with heads of blocs has delayed [the formation],” Qassem said in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV. “The approval of parliamentary blocs is essential to the Cabinet formation. This is what the Americans must understand.”
“The external reason is the American position, which gives signals such as the Americans have said they do not want Hezbollah to be represented [in Cabinet]. The problem is that the Americans are exerting pressure to control the [next] government and they are posing a real obstacle,” Qassem added. “No one from outside [Lebanon], America or others, has the right to say this group can or cannot participate [in the next government].”
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