Lebanese President Michel Aoun received Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Monday at Baabda Palace for the first time in four days, saying afterward that government formation talks were ongoing and that progress so far looked “positive.”
The statement released by President Aoun’s media office contrasts reports in recent days that have cast doubt over a swift government formation, namely that new demands by rival factions – including by Aoun himself – have stalled proceedings.
A political source told The Daily Star Sunday that Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement, headed by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, were obstructing formation effort by seeking to control three key ministries: Defense, Interior and Justice.
Bassil, who heads the FPM’s Strong Lebanon bloc, the largest Christian bloc in Parliament, had been accused of hindering government formation by also insisting on retaining hold of the Energy Ministry – controlled by FPM for more than 10 years.
However, the president’s media office released a separate statement Monday rebutting allegations of any such “third party” involvement.
“The government formation consultations are carried out exclusively and according to the Constitution between the President of the Republic General Michel Aoun and the Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri,” the statement read.
“There is no third party participating in these consultations, especially MP Gebran Bassil,” it added.
Despite reports that Hariri had planned to present Aoun with his draft Cabinet lineup over the weekend, the visit Monday marks the first time they have met in more than four days, indicating to many that the government formation process was already running into difficulty.
Since being named prime minister-designate on Oct. 22, Hariri has now met five times with Aoun, discussing the makeup of a new Cabinet that they hope can deliver reforms in line with the so-called “French initiative.”
Devised by French President Emmanuel Macron in September, it provides a road map of technocratic fixes for Lebanon’s multiple crises that will open the door to much-needed international aid.
However, Lebanese media cast fresh doubt on the prospect of international support Monday, suggesting that the latest government formation delays risked the last chance to save the country and that Lebanon was already no longer a high priority on Macron’s agenda.
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