Hariri still PM, Aoun and Berri maintain
Leaders bide their time until premier’s return, which they view as key to resolving crisis
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.”