‘Le­banon’s Berri cites pos­i­tive at­mos­phere over gov­ern­ment’

Le­banese politi­cians have been un­able to agree on a new power-shar­ing cab­i­net since a parliamentary elec­tion in May

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

BEIRUT: Le­banese Par­lia­ment Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wed­nes­day some saw “a pos­i­tive, promis­ing at­mos­phere” in talks over form­ing a new gov­ern­ment and his of­fice was ac­tively en­gaged in con­tacts on the is­sue though th­ese re­quire more time.

Berri, one of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures in the state, also said the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion was “very frag­ile” and urged ev­ery­one to “shoul­der their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties”, ac­cord­ing to Al Ma­nar TV sta­tion, which is run by the group Hezbol­lah.

Le­banese politi­cians have been un­able to agree on a new pow­er­shar­ing cab­i­net since a parliamentary elec­tion in May.

Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah group should get the Health Min­istry in the new gov­ern­ment, a se­nior Hezbol­lah fig­ure said on Wed­nes­day, a more im­por­tant state agency than any it has con­trolled in re­cent times as it pro­vides ser­vices to mil­lions of peo­ple.

Hezbol­lah con­trol over the Health Min­istry could have im­pli­ca­tions for for­eign aid.

Mo­hammed Fnaish, the youth and sport min­is­ter in the care­taker gov­ern­ment, told the group’s Al Ma­nar TV sta­tion that Hezbol­lah had an agree­ment with Le­banon’s other main Shi’ite party Amal for Hezbol­lah to run the health min­istry.

Prime Min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Saad Al Hariri has been ne­go­ti­at­ing with Le­banon’s ri­val par­ties since a parliamentary elec­tion in May to form a new power-shar­ing cab­i­net, but has so far been un­able to reach con­sen­sus.

The ma­jor par­ties have jos­tled over the num­ber of cab­i­net seats they should get, and over the ap­por­tion­ment of the most pow­er­ful min­istries.

How­ever, this week, there have been signs of a break in the dead­lock, with nu­mer­ous politi­cians voic­ing con­cern over the threat of a loom­ing eco­nomic cri­sis.

Made con­ces­sions

Hariri said on Tues­day that all sides had made con­ces­sions in the talks and he hoped the new gov­ern­ment would be formed af­ter Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun re­turns from a trip abroad. Aoun is ex­pected to come back on Fri­day.

Last week Hariri said he had no ob­jec­tion him­self to Hezbol­lah tak­ing the health port­fo­lio, but that if it did so, there was a big pos­si­bil­ity that the World Bank or other in­ter­na­tional bod­ies could stop aid to the Health Min­istry.

Le­banon is a ma­jor re­cip­i­ent of aid, both di­rectly and through in­ter­na­tional bod­ies.

Ear­lier this year it se­cured bil­lions of dol­lars in com­mit­ments to soft loans, in­clud­ing from the World Bank, con­tin­gent on fis­cal and other re­forms. Le­banon has the third largest debt-to-GDP ra­tio in the world at more than 150 per cent, and the new gov­ern­ment is ex­pected to start moves to­wards bring­ing down the deficit. The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund urged Le­banon in June to make an “im­me­di­ate and sub­stan­tial fis­cal” ad­just­ment to make its debt load more sus­tain­able.

- Reuters/Mo­hamed Aza­kir/File photo

UP­BEAT: Le­banese Par­lia­ment Speaker Nabih Berri heads a gen­eral par­lia­ment dis­cus­sion in down­town Beirut, Le­banon Oc­to­ber 18, 2017.

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