Le­banese government talks hit snag

The coun­try is wrestling with the world’s third largest pub­lic debt as a pro­por­tion of the econ­omy and stag­nant growth

The Gulf Today - - MIDDLE EAST -

Le­banon’s Hizbol­lah pressed a de­mand for one of its Sunni al­lies to be given a post in a new government on Tues­day as politi­cians sought a com­pro­mise to a stand­off pit­ting the Ira­nian-backed group against prime min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Saad Al Hariri.

Hariri, Le­banon’s main Sunni Mus­lim politi­cian, is try­ing to clinch a deal on a na­tional unity government more than ive months since a gen­eral election that pro­duced a par­lia­ment tilted in favour of Hizbol­lah and its al­lies.

A ma­jor hur­dle was cleared on Mon­day when a row over Chris­tian rep­re­sen­ta­tion was set­tled with the staunchly anti-hizbol­lah Chris­tian Le­banese Forces ced­ing ground to Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun and his Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment, a Hizbol­lah ally.

The row over Sunni rep­re­sen­ta­tion is the last prob­lem. Hizbol­lah is in­sist­ing one of its Sunni al­lies be made a min­is­ter to relect the re­sult of an election in which Hariri lost more than a third of his seats, many of them to Sunni al­lies of Hizbol­lah.

“Our view is that their de­mand is just and we stand by them,” se­nior Hizbol­lah oficial Hus­sein Khalil said in tele­vised comments after meeting the group’s Sunni al­lies.

“I be­lieve the prob­lem of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the in­de­pen­dent Sunni MPS is not big­ger than the prob­lems that were solved,” he said.

Hariri has ruled out giv­ing up one of his cab­i­net seats. A pos­si­ble com­pro­mise would be for Aoun to ap­point one of the Hezbol­lah-al­lied Sun­nis within a group of min­is­ters named by the head of state.

Le­banon is dire need of a government that can em­bark on eco­nomic re­forms that are seen as more press­ing than ever. The coun­try is wrestling with the world’s third largest pub­lic debt as a pro­por­tion of the econ­omy and stag­nant growth.

Government posts in Le­banon are illed ac­cord­ing to a strict sec­tar­ian sys­tem. The pres­i­dent must be a Ma­ronite Chris­tian, the prime min­is­ter a Sunni Mus­lim and the speaker of par­lia­ment a Shi’ite Mus­lim. Posts in the cab­i­net of 30 min­is­ters must be split equally be­tween Chris­tians and Mus­lims.

Faisal Karami, one the Hezbol­la­hal­lied Sunni MPS, crit­i­cised Hariri and his Fu­ture Move­ment party.

“He wants to mo­nop­o­lise the en­tire Sunni sect for him­self,” Karami told LBC tele­vi­sion. “To­day the Fu­ture Move­ment no longer rep­re­sents the ab­so­lute, over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity in the Sunni street.”

Rashed Fayed, a Fu­ture Move­ment oficial, said the de­mand by Hizbol­lah and its al­lies was “sud­den” and “con­trived” after months when the sub­ject had not sur­faced in the cab­i­net dis­cus­sions. “Saad Al Hariri will not let it pass,” he told Reuters.

A sec­ond source in the Hariri camp de­scribed the row as quite se­ri­ous and said re­solv­ing it “will take time”.

To­gether, Hizbol­lah and its po­lit­i­cal al­lies se­cured more than 70 of the 128 seats in par­lia­ment in the election, Le­banon’s irst in nine years.

Hizbol­lah, pro­scribed as a ter­ror­ist move­ment by the United States, is ex­pected to take con­trol of the health min­istry, the most sig­ni­icant cab­i­net post it has held, and to in­crease its num­ber of min­is­ters to three from two in the out­go­ing cab­i­net.

File photo/reuters

Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun meets Prime Min­is­ter Saad Al Hariri, and Le­banese Par­lia­ment Speaker Nabih Berri at the pres­i­den­tial palace in Baabda, Le­banon, on Feb.6.BEIRUT:

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