Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt Monday blamed President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Hezbollah for the Cabinet formation deadlock as the weekslong crisis marked time with no solution in sight.
Joumblatt, who staunchly supported the French initiative designed to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, expressed hope that France, once a Lebanese government was formed, could open the door for Lebanon to resume talks with the World Bank and international institutions on a bailout plan to rescue its collapsing economy.
#ابو_عمار-#ياسر_عرفات يغادر #بيروت 1982— Alaa Rayan علاء ريان (@alaarayyan9) May 6, 2020
30 Aug 1982, #Beirut, #Lebanon --- #Palestine_Liberation_Organization leader #Yasser_Arafat and #Walid_Joumblatt before leaving #Beirut for #Tunisia
The PSP chief’s remarks come as the stalled Cabinet formation process has been put on hold until the New Year after Hariri’s two meetings last week with Aoun failed to make any breakthrough in the impasse that has left Lebanon without a fully functioning government for more than four months. Hariri left Beirut over the weekend to spend the New Year's holiday with his family abroad, a clear indication that nothing would happen in the government formation efforts before the start of the next year.
Hariri cited “clear complications” that shattered his hopes for a new Cabinet before Christmas after holding his 14th meeting with Aoun last week since he was designated to form a new government on Oct. 22. He said a new government should be formed after the New Year's holiday in order to halt Lebanon’s economic collapse.
“Amid the catastrophes [Beirut port explosion] and the economic disasters, it would have been possible, had a government been formed, or it was permissible to form a government that has a minimum of integrity and specialists, to begin tackling [the crisis]. This was a demand of French President Emmanuel Macron after he came [to Beirut] in the wake of the Aug. 4 [port] disaster,” Joumblatt said in an interview with the PSP’s electronic newspaper Al-Anbaa.
“At that time, outwardly, all political forces were responsive to him. But in practice, we are still until now at a dead end simply because [of the positions of] political forces, and we are part of these political forces. But how much influence do we have over other central forces, such as the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, or Saad Hariri and the Future Movement? Nothing,” he added.
The Druze (who live mainly in the mountains south of Beirut) have two parties. Most important one is the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). Leader is the witty Walid Joumblatt who succeeded his father Kemal, who was killed in '77. PSP is influential, plays sometimes a key role. pic.twitter.com/8fs5jcgg9n— Martijn van der Kooij (@MartijnvdKooij) May 4, 2018
Asked who was responsible for the failure to form a new government eagerly awaited by the Lebanese to rescue them from the worst economic and financial crunch in the country’s history, Joumblatt said: “Locally, I hold these political forces [Aoun, Hariri and Hezbollah] responsible. We must not forget that the Free Patriotic Movement is an essential party.”
He added that Hariri had made mistakes when he sought to impose on Aoun “specific” Christian names in the new Cabinet, in addition to a dispute over the distribution of key ministries.
During a “war of words” earlier this month, Aoun and Hariri aired their differences over the Cabinet formation, with each blaming the other for the delay. In a statement issued by his media office, Hariri disclosed that Aoun and the FPM headed by MP Gebran Bassil demanded a veto power in the next government. Hariri, who staunchly rejects granting any party a veto power in the next government, implicitly blamed Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, for the obstruction of the Cabinet formation.
Hariri also disclosed that Aoun wanted a government in which all political parties are represented, which runs contrary to the premier-designate’s decision to exclude representatives of those parties.
In return, the presidency’s media office accused Hariri of unilaterally naming ministers, especially Christian ministers, without an agreement with the president.
Despite the gloomy Cabinet prospects, Joumblatt said: “So far, I am positive because there is still hope that France, with the power it has, can open the doors, if an acceptable government is formed, for negotiations with the World Bank and international institutions to begin the reform process.”
Lebanon began talks with the International Monetary Fund on a $10 billion bailout package in May 2020, but the negotiations have been stalled by a dispute between different interest groups representing Lebanese banks and the government over the size of the Central Bank’s losses.
“The formation of a government could be the beginning of reforms, rebuilding the port, and the return of normal life. But this will take a lot of time. If we stayed in this standstill that is imposed by internal forces along with external forces, the old Lebanon with its hospitalization, civilized, teaching and cultural message will be finished,” Joumblatt said.
Former Future Movement MP Mustafa Alloush warned that any government contrary to Hariri’s proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms would not be able to win the world’s confidence.
“Hariri’s conditions are to form a rescue government. So far, Baabda [Palace] has not responded favorably to these conditions that could make the government [formation] successful,” Alloush, a member of the Future Movement’s politburo, said in a local radio interview. “Any government that is different from the one proposed by Hariri will not gain the international community’s confidence,” he added.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah laid the Cabinet formation deadlock to a confidence crisis between Aoun and Hariri, ruling out external factors for the delay.
“The Cabinet formation will take time. There are no external reasons [for the delay]. In his last statement, the prime minister-designate spoke about a confidence crisis. Essentially, confidence is lost between President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri,” Nasrallah said in an end-of-year interview with the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen channel Sunday night.
He said internal discussions on the Cabinet formation focused on the makeup of the next government, the number of ministers and the distribution of portfolios among various sects.
Nasrallah scoffed at the theory propagated by Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents that the formation of a new Lebanese government has been put off until after US President-elect Joe Biden takes office at the White House on Jan. 20 and begins negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.
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