Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Sunday broke his silence on the Cabinet formation stalemate, reassuring the Lebanese that a new government would be set up at the start of the new year.
Despite the difficulties that have encountered his attempts over the past seven months to form a national unity government embracing the main political factions, Hariri said he was confident that all the parties wanted a resolution to the Cabinet deadlock, now in its eighth month.
“This is the country we want,” Hariri said from Beirut’s Downtown, where he was inspecting ongoing preparations for the New Year celebrations set to be held in Nijmeh Square Monday night.
“Unfortunately, the Cabinet formation has been delayed. But I am confident that all the political parties want a solution.”
“The president and I have been patient for a long time. So have all the Lebanese people. We must form a government with the beginning of the new year. Until then, I want the Lebanese to be joyful,” he added, according to a statement released by his media office.
Hariri said the advent of the new year should provide a chance to “turn a new page and think about the country and the people.”
“I hope that the celebrations to be held [Monday] will be up to the aspirations of the Lebanese and the residents of Beirut in particular,” Hariri added.
Commenting on media reports about a return to a 32-member Cabinet formula, a source close to Hariri said in a statement released by his office Saturday: “The position of Prime Minister Hariri in this respect [the 32-member Cabinet proposal] is known. He will not accept this proposal.”
Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was reported over the weekend to have revived a proposal, which had been rejected by Hariri, for expanding the new Cabinet from 30 to 32 ministers as a means of resolving the issue of representing six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs in the new government.
Hariri’s remarks came as General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, with backing from President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, resumed his shuttle diplomacy aimed at resolving the issue of the MPs’ representation. Ibrahim has met with Bassil and Hezbollah officials over the issue. He was also expected to meet with the six MPs not affiliated with the Future Movement, known as the Consultative Gathering. Ibrahim’s moves are part of an initiative launched by Aoun earlier this month. A key element of Aoun’s plan calls for representing the six MPs from the president’s share with a candidate from outside their group, rather than one of the six lawmakers themselves, as they had previously demanded.
However, the initiative collapsed after Bassil reportedly wanted the group’s candidate to be part of the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc, while the six insisted that their candidate should exclusively represent the Consultative Gathering.
As 2018 wraps up with rivals being unable to agree on a new Cabinet lineup after more than seven months of wrangling, Lebanon is coming under heavy pressure to form a government ahead of an Arab economic summit set to be held in Beirut in January, political sources said.
“Lebanon is bidding farewell to 2018 with a Cabinet vacuum. All attempts to form a new government ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays have foundered on the rock of the parties’ conflicting demands,” a political source familiar with the formation process told The Daily Star.
“While the country goes on vacation starting Sunday, serious work to resolve the last remaining obstacle, as well as a new demand for a redistribution of some ministerial portfolios, will not begin before the first week of the new year,” the source said.
They were referring to the problem of representing the six lawmakers, which has held up the Cabinet formation since late October. A new snag that cropped up while talks centered on resolving the issue was Bassil’s insistence on a redistribution of some portfolios. The demand, which has further compounded the crisis, was staunchly rejected by Speaker Nabih Berri and the Progressive Socialist Party, led by former MP Walid Joumblatt.
Despite the difficulties, Bassil said a new government would eventually be formed. “There are many solutions [to the Cabinet crisis]. We will not rest until we reach a government that achieves true representation,” Bassil said at an FPM dinner Saturday night.
Another political source said Lebanese officials were coming under pressure to accelerate the formation ahead of the 2019 Arab Economic and Social Development summit, set to be held in Beirut on Jan. 19-20.
“Political sources anticipate the Cabinet formation before the convening of the economic summit,” MTV said in its news bulletin.
The failed attempts to break the gridlock coincided with warnings by Lebanese and foreign officials that a prolonged crisis would lead to economic collapse, as well as to the loss of grants and soft loans pledged by international donors at the CEDRE conference to help shore up Lebanon’s ailing economy.
Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said Lebanon’s economic crisis was turning into “a financial crisis” and warned of further deterioration if the government was not formed soon.
“The economic crisis today is at its peak, changing from an economic crisis into a financial crisis. We hope that it will not turn into a monetary crisis that will cause the Lebanese people to lose faith in their state,” Khalil, a key political aide to Berri, said at a memorial ceremony in the southern town of Toulin. “Any further delay in government formation will reflect negatively on the country’s stability.”
Earlier this month, Moody’s Investors Service changed Lebanon’s outlook from stable to negative on the government’s issuer ratings, but maintained its long-term rating at B3, which indicates high credit risk.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea called on Aoun and Hariri to make the decision to form a government and send a Cabinet formation decree to Parliament, despite the unresolved issues.
He indirectly accused Hezbollah of seeking to exercise more power than the Constitution allows.
Speaking during a dinner held in Maarab Saturday night for engineers affiliated with the LF, Geagea said Aoun and Hariri must end the deadlock and sign off on a Cabinet lineup that “they believe is appropriate, regardless of the demands of parties.”
Once the decree is signed and sent to Parliament for a vote of confidence, Geagea said, “any opposing party” can then voice its objection to the lineup.
For his part, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai called for the formation of a small government after attempts had failed to set up a 30-member Cabinet.
Referring to the previous Sunday’s street protests in Beirut against worsening economic conditions and the failure to form a new government, Rai said in this Sunday’s sermon: “Officials have no right to turn deaf ears to the people’s cry for their daily life demands. Therefore, we call with others for [the formation] of a small government made up of specialized and neutral people with a sound political concept.”
Such a government, Rai said, should work to carry out structural and sectoral reforms according to the mechanism set by the CEDRE conference.
Held in Paris in April, the CEDRE conference raised over $11 billion in grants and soft loans pledged by countries and international organizations to finance investment and infrastructure projects in Lebanon.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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