Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil Thursday gave no signs that progress had been made in the monthslong effort to form a new Cabinet, having dismissed optimism from Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri last week.
The FPM leader, who is also caretaker foreign minister, claimed to have facilitated the formation of the government in a televised interview after dubbing Hariri’s optimism as “artificial” last week. However, he maintained that “many sides want me to have a problem with Saad, but this will not happen.”
“I said that we [the FPM] would sit out of the next government if needed. What more should I do?” he asked. Bassil cited demands the FPM had backed down from as evidence of the FPM’s willingness to compromise. As examples, he said the FPM agreed to include Alawite and Assyrian ministers and did not demand the Finance or Interior ministries, despite the party’s significant presence in Parliament. “Why is the president, [who has] the biggest political bloc, not allowed to have the Finance or Interior ministries?” Bassil questioned. In recent years, the Shiite and Sunni sects have held these two ministries respectively. Christian parties have taken the Defense and Foreign ministries the other two “sovereign ministries.”
Bassil revealed that he suggested Hariri grant the Interior Ministry to the Lebanese Forces, a rival Christian party, which is currently held by Hariri’s Future Movement.
“Hariri asked me what would he [Future] take and I told him to take the Foreign Ministry [run by the FPM],” Bassil said.
A primary blockage in forming a new government is the bickering between the LF and the FPM over the split in Christian-led ministries. While Bassil said he had no problem with the LF taking a sovereign ministry, he reiterated previous statements that the LF has the right to three ministers at most. An agreement the Maarab Understanding was signed between the two longtime Civil War rivals that meant to turn the page on intra-party fighting that led to the death of thousands of Lebanese. However, Bassil said the LF breached the agreement and that this was the reason for his aggressive stance against the party. “I insisted on the LF getting more ministries than they deserved in the outgoing government, but this was before they violated the agreement,” he said, suggesting that the LF needed to “work together” with the FPM.
Bassil also said that he had no problem with the LF getting more than three ministries if that did not mean a reduction in the FPM’s and the president’s ministries. He added that he thought the president should be allotted five ministries, instead of the traditional three.
Bassil recommended that the criteria for forming a national entente government should be that every five MPs a political bloc has should equate to one ministry portfolio.
He added that his party wants the Public Works Ministry, which is currently run by the Marada Movement, in addition to the Energy Ministry.
He said the LF should be allowed a third ministry with the “weight” of these two.
Separately, the minister took a dig at the LF as he praised recent rapprochement between Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh and the LF’s Samir Geagea. “This makes me happy because if Frangieh can forgive who killed his mother and father then he can forgive the one who he claims took the presidency from his path,” Bassil said, in reference to the 1978 Ehden Massacre where Frangieh’s relatives were killed.
Despite this dig, Bassil said the reconciliation with the LF was solid and would not be overturned. “I am not letting go of it and I have a hope of doing better. But we need to work together with this presidency to move forward, not to compete.”
Asked whether he wants the blocking third in the future government, Bassil said no. “The opposition looks for veto power, not the ruling party.”
Still, Bassil assured the public that there was a Cabinet on the horizon, without giving a timeframe.
Separately, Geagea said he hoped a new government would be formed in the next few days, noting that the critical economic situation in the country required it.
“If a government is formed in the next [few] days and we hope this will happen then we will propose practical steps to help revive the economic situation,” Geagea said from the LF headquarters in Maarab in televised remarks. In the event that a government is formed, Geagea said that the LF would call for certain “steps,” which he did not specify, to be implemented to help the economy.
But if the government does not come together within a week, “then the steps that the LF will propose cannot wait.”
Geagea seemed to be referring to his previous calls for the current Cabinet to convene despite being in a caretaker capacity. While caretaker ministers cannot take on new projects without approval, projects that were initiated before June 7 with adequate documentation as evidence are exempt and can proceed, according to a circular shared in an email from Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s office over the summer.
Meanwhile, a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Aoun will take place Friday. “They will meet on the sidelines of the summit,” a presidential source confirmed to The Daily Star. Bassil is set to attend the meeting after departing Beirut for the Armenian capital after Thursday’s interview.
Pierre Duquesne, the French inter-ministerial delegate to the Mediterranean tasked with following up on the results of CEDRE met with Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri separately. The French envoy said CEDRE resolutions would be “put in place perfectly” once Cabinet is formed, urging formation soon.
“We all want and my country more than any other, if I may say for this to happen quickly,” Duquesne said after his meeting with Hariri.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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