Lebanese Leaders Inch Closer Towards Cabinet; Next 48 Hours Critical

Published July 27th, 2018 - 11:17 GMT
The meeting among President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri (Twitter)
The meeting among President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri (Twitter)

More high-level talks on the government’s formation are scheduled for the next 48 hours, political sources said Thursday, following recent marked progress on the issue raised hopes that a new Cabinet could be announced before the end of the month.

While no new details were announced Thursday, the country’s three top leaders discussed the latest developments in Cabinet formation negotiations, now in their third month, in a joint meeting at Baabda Palace. The meeting among President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri took place after they had held talks with a Russian delegation on a Russian proposal on the return of Syrian refugees from Lebanon.

A source close to Berri said that the speaker had stressed translating the prevailing positive atmosphere into forming a government as soon as possible, noting its necessity in preventing Lebanon’s economic crisis from being further exacerbated.

The three leaders were in agreement on the need to accelerate the government’s formation and agreed that Hariri intensify his meetings during the next 48 hours to that end, a statement from Aoun’s office said.

Cabinet formation had been discussed in light of communications made by Hariri following his meeting with Aoun Wednesday. Berri later withdrew from the meeting, leaving Aoun and Hariri alone.

 

 

Adding to the positive atmosphere, caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, Berri’s key aide, said before heading into a joint session of parliamentary committees that a government was “closer than ever.”

The major remaining knot is the bitter row between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces over the ministerial share each party will have in the next Cabinet. Speaking about that disagreement in comments published Thursday, LF chief Samir Geagea said that his party maintained its right to appoint at least five ministers, and that the FPM, along with the president’s share of ministers, should have eight.

Geagea told local daily Al-Joumhouria that the LF had secured 36 percent of the Christian vote in May’s elections, which he said translates into a third of the 15 ministries allocated to Christians.

“In all cases, we are entitled to six ministries, according to the Maarab Understanding,” he added, referring to a landmark 2016 agreement between the LF and the FPM that detailed the division of the Christian share of political power in the country between the two parties.

The agreement had been crucial in the rise of Aoun, who founded the FPM, to the presidency. The pact has been strained ever since.

Geagea said in an interview published Thursday with the LF-affiliated Al Massira online that despite political disagreements, the understanding remained in force. “The disagreements are of a political nature, over the issue of electricity or who will take what in the next government. These differences remain in their political context,” he said. He also reiterated his support for Aoun’s term, saying he hoped it would be the “most successful in Lebanon’s history.”

Geagea’s interview took place on the 13th anniversary of his release from prison on July 26, 2005, via a special amnesty, following Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon.

At a news conference Thursday evening, Geagea said that Hariri had worked hard to form a government quickly, but that solving the issue required “Aoun’s intervention with force.”

Geagea said his party, along with the Future Movement, the PSP and the Amal Movement, had converging views on how the next government should look. Though Geagea notably excluded Hezbollah – the LF’s political archrival – he had said in the interview that he and the party saw eye to eye on many policy issues.“When [Hezbollah] becomes a political party like any other political party, it’s one of the parties we are most likely to meet” with on policy, he said.

Although Lebanon remains without a government, MPs Thursday adopted two draft laws in a joint committee session, paving the way for their ratification by Parliament at the next general assembly.

The laws included a proposal on the protection of whistle-blowers and a draft law on solid-waste management. The latter did not pass without controversy; three MPs – Kataeb party head Sami Gemayel, Kataeb MP Elias Hankash and the Sabaa Party’s civil society MP Paula Yacoubian – left the session after objecting to its swift passage. They said they had been barred from debate.

After leaving the meeting, Yacoubian voiced fears that the law paved the way for a “$250 million” waste incinerator to be built in Beirut’s impoverished Karantina suburb. “This time round, corruption isn’t stealing from us; it is deadly,” she said.

LF MP George Adwan, however, said the law did not specify any solution to the waste crisis, but rather provided a framework for solutions yet to be adopted. “Some people spoke about the laws without knowing what’s in them,” Adwan said.

Adwan added that the whistle-blower protection law would “protect those who expose or report corruption,” and would “encourage citizens, employees and administrators to disclose any information related to corruption and protect them.”

 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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