The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Hariri still PM, Aoun and Berri main­tain

Lead­ers bide their time un­til pre­mier’s re­turn, which they view as key to re­solv­ing cri­sis

- By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri Wed­nes­day main­tained that Saad Hariri was still prime min­is­ter and that his shock res­ig­na­tion was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The two lead­ers were ap­par­ently bid­ing their time un­til Hariri re­turns to Le­banon – viewed as the key to re­solv­ing the po­lit­i­cal stale­mate caused by his res­ig­na­tion from the premier­ship Satur­day.

“Hariri is still the prime min­is­ter ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent Aoun, and he is wait­ing to dis­cuss with [Hariri] the rea­sons be­hind his res­ig­na­tion,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

Aoun has so far not ac­cepted Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion, say­ing that he will wait for the prime min­is­ter’s re­turn be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sion on the mat­ter.

In his sec­ond day of con­sul­ta­tions at Baabda Palace Wed­nes­day, the pres­i­dent met with for­mer pres­i­dents, for­mer pre­miers and heads of par­lia­men­tary blocs, in talks aimed at con­tain­ing the po­ten­tially grave reper­cus­sions of Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion on the coun­try’s frag­ile sta­bil­ity and ail­ing econ­omy, and at ex­plor­ing pos­si­ble so­lu­tions to the cri­sis.

Aoun’s meet­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the five per­ma­nent mem­ber states of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil as well as Arab am­bas­sadors sched­uled for Thurs­day was post­poned to Fri­day, the source said.

He added that at the end of the con­sul­ta­tions, Aoun would make a state­ment out­lin­ing his po­si­tion on Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion.

“The meet­ings will con­tinue to­day [Wed­nes­day] and to­mor­row [Thurs­day] ... as Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri have said that they will not con­sider Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion valid un­til he re­turns to Beirut or con­tacts them,” the source said.

Hariri an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion from the premier­ship in a tele­vised speech from Riyadh Satur­day, cit­ing Iran’s grow­ing in­flu­ence and in­ter­fer­ence in the re­gion and fears for his life. The sur­prise de­ci­sion has plunged Le­banon into un­cer­tainty amid soar­ing re­gional ten­sions be­tween Saudi Ara­bia and Iran.

Berri re­it­er­ated his stance that Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion from the premier­ship was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

“The Cab­i­net still ex­ists and Prime Min­is­ter Hariri’s an­nounce­ment of his res­ig­na­tion in this man­ner will not al­ter its na­ture,” Berri was quoted as say­ing by a num­ber

of law­mak­ers dur­ing his weekly meet­ing with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh res­i­dence. “The res­ig­na­tion of this Cab­i­net would be un­con­sti­tu­tional, ac­cord­ing to texts, norms and mech­a­nisms,” he said.

Berri said that he was wait­ing for Hariri to re­turn to Le­banon. “And that is to af­firm the res­ig­na­tion, or else it is in­valid. And when he re­signs based on the norms, par­lia­men­tary con­sul­ta­tions will be car­ried out to des­ig­nate a new pre­mier,” he added.

Con­sti­tu­tion­ally, how­ever, a pre­mier who re­signs should serve as care­taker prime min­is­ter un­til a new prime min­is­ter is se­lected and suc­ceeds in form­ing a Cab­i­net.

Berri ap­peared to op­pose the for­ma­tion of a govern­ment of tech­nocrats to over­see next year’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. “The po­lit­i­cal prob­lem that the res­ig­na­tion has cre­ated will only be solved by a po­lit­i­cal Cab­i­net,” Berri was quoted as say­ing.

He un­der­scored the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing na­tional unity to over­come the cri­sis. “The Le­banese, de­spite all the crises they had faced, were able to over­come all the dif­fi­cul­ties, armed with their unity and for­ti­fi­ca­tion of the do­mes­tic front,” Berri said.

MP Walid Jum­blatt pro­posed keep­ing the cur­rent govern­ment in place. “For the sake of his­tory, and in or­der not to en­ter into the un­known, the best set­tle­ment for Le­banon’s sta­bil­ity is the cur­rent na­tional unity govern­ment. I will not say more,” Jum­blatt tweeted Wed­nes­day night.

For his part, Le­banese Forces chief Samir Geagea blamed Hezbol­lah’s grow­ing in­flu­ence in Le­banon for Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion.

“Prime Min­is­ter Hariri re­signed when we reached a si­t­u­a­tion that Hezbol­lah was seek­ing to be­come the de­ci­sion-maker [in Le­banon],” Geagea said in an in­ter­view with MTV. In sub­stance, he said he was not sur­prised by Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion, given the ac­cu­mu­lated prob­lems within the govern­ment as a re­sult of Hezbol­lah’s ac­tions. He added that he was sur­prised only by the timing of the res­ig­na­tion.

How­ever, Geagea sounded op­ti­mistic about over­com­ing the present cri­sis. “No doubt, we are in a cri­sis like other crises. But as we had been able to over­come those crises, we will be able to emerge from this cri­sis, too,” he said. “There are al­ways steps to avoid the abyss to which we were head­ing.”

Geagea said Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion was fi­nal, adding that the cri­sis was big­ger than the res­ig­na­tion. The LF chief said if Hezbol­lah de­cided to with­draw from re­gional con­flicts, then Hariri would back down on his res­ig­na­tion.

Geagea said the po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment that led to the elec­tion of Aoun as pres­i­dent did not col­lapse, but the “govern­ment set­tle­ment has col­lapsed.”

Hariri, in Riyadh, re­ceived a phone call Wed­nes­day from Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas. The two lead­ers dis­cussed de­vel­op­ments in Le­banon and the re­gion, a state­ment from Hariri’s me­dia of­fice said.

Mean­while, Iran’s Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani crit­i­cized Saudi Ara­bia over what he called “un­prece­dented” in­ter­fer­ence in Le­banese af­fairs and added his voice to those who claim Riyadh forced Hariri to re­sign.

Rouhani’s re­marks fol­lowed a phone call to Aoun Tues­day, in which the Ira­nian pres­i­dent pledged Tehran’s sup­port for Le­banon’s sta­bil­ity fol­low­ing Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Rouhani’s of­fi­cial web­site, the Ira­nian pres­i­dent said that “there is no case in his­tory that a coun­try forces an­other one’s au­thor­ity to re­sign only to in­ter­fere [in] their in­ter­nal af­fairs.”

“Why are you in­ter­fer­ing with Le­banon’s in­ter­nal af­fairs and gover­nance?” Rouhani said, ad­dress­ing Saudi Ara­bia. “This is an un­prece­dented event in his­tory.”

The Euro­pean Union reaf­firmed its sup­port for Le­banon’s unity and sovereignt­y. “Fol­low­ing Prime Min­is­ter Hariri’s state­ment on Nov. 4, 2017, the am­bas­sadors of the Euro­pean Union in Le­banon reaf­firm their strong sup­port for the con­tin­ued unity, sta­bil­ity, sovereignt­y and se­cu­rity of Le­banon and its peo­ple,” a state­ment from the EU said.

“The EU am­bas­sadors call on all sides to pur­sue con­struc­tive dia­logue and to build on the work achieved in the last 11 months to­ward strength­en­ing Le­banon’s in­sti­tu­tions and pre­par­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in early 2018, in ad­her­ence with the Con­sti­tu­tion,” it added.

Re­it­er­at­ing its en­dur­ing sup­port for Le­banon, the state­ment high­lighted the EU’s “on­go­ing com­mit­ment to stand by and as­sist Le­banon in the frame­work of the strong part­ner­ship to en­sure the con­tin­ued sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic re­cov­ery of the coun­try.”

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