Hajjar said it was up to Hariri to decide on how to respond to those obstructing his endeavor to form an 18-member Cabinet of specialists to deliver key reforms deemed essential to releasing promised international aid to the crises-ridden country.
Free Patriotic Movement MP Gebran Bassil had been accused by his opponents in the past of delaying Cabinet formation for months because of his insistence that his party, with 24 MPs, has the largest bloc in Parliament, be allotted key ministries.
Lebanon has remained without a fully functioning government since caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab submitted his Cabinet’s resignation on Aug. 10 in the aftermath of the deadly explosion that devastated Beirut port and damaged large areas in the capital.
Since his designation on Oct. 22 to form a new government, Hariri has imposed a shroud of secrecy on his meetings with President Michel Aoun and his contacts with leading parties in a bid to speed up the formation.
Hariri has encountered major obstacles in his attempts to form a new Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to be tasked with implementing 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.
Hariri, backed by France and regional powers, has held nine meetings with Aoun in a bid to hasten the government formation. The latest meeting was held Monday behind the scenes.
But these meetings have so far failed to make any progress in the Cabinet formation crisis, heightening fears of plunging Lebanon into a prolonged government standoff, with all the grave consequences this entails for the country’s struggling economy.
Hajjar said Hariri was adhering to Article 64 in the Constitution in his attempts to form a new government. “Article 64 states that a government is formed by the prime minister-designate in agreement with the president. This is what will happen,” he said, adding: “A return to the previous experiments, meaning the formation of national unity governments based on sharing out of spoils [among rival parties] that brought the country to the current collapse, will not be acceptable in any form.”
“Today, we have the French initiative which calls for the formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan, honest and competent specialists. This is what Prime Minister Saad Hariri wants and also the international community which has been urging us to quickly form a government,” Hajjar said.
Hariri’s attempts to form a new government, already stalled by rival factions’ jockeying for key ministerial seats, have been further complicated by the Nov. 6 imposition of US sanctions on Bassil over corruption charges and his ties to Hezbollah, long labeled a terrorist organization by Washington.
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 of specialists.
The FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc Tuesday renewed its demand for the adoption of a unified criterion in the Cabinet formation, especially for each party to name its ministers and the rotation of so-called four “sovereign ministries” – Defense, Finance, Interior and Foreign Affairs. It also rejected allotting two ministries to one minister.
A political source said the Cabinet formation remained bogged down by differences over the distribution of important ministerial posts among various sects and deciding who names Christian ministers in the proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists.
“The rival factions’ jockeying for public-services related ministries, such as the telecommunications, public works, health, education and social affairs portfolios, is hindering the Cabinet formation,” the source said. He added Aoun and Hariri’s disagreement on who should name the nine Christian ministers is also posing a major obstacle to the formation.
“Hariri is insisting on naming all the ministers,” Mustapha Alloush, a former Future MP and a member of the Future Movement’s Political Bureau, said in a radio interview. “Until now, all things have not been sorted out. Prime Minister-designate Hariri is working to form a mission government, but eventually we might reach a dead-end.”
But MP Hikmat Deeb from the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc said his party insisted on naming Christian ministers in the next Cabinet. “We refuse that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri names Christian ministers,” Deeb told a local TV station. “The one who is obstructing the Cabinet formation is the one who does not respect unified criteria and the true balanced representation.”
Deeb added that there were no contacts between the FPM and Hariri on the Cabinet formation “even though we are the biggest bloc in Parliament.”
The French initiative aims to put Lebanon on a path of reforms that would eventually lead to releasing urgent financial aid vital to shoring up the crumbling economy, burdened by a soaring public debt of over $90 billion.
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