Aoun: My po­lit­i­cal pact with Hariri re­mains in­tact

Pres­i­dent in­stead points to ‘ex­ter­nal fac­tors’ for de­lay in Cabi­net for­ma­tion

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: A 2016 po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment that led to the elec­tion of Gen. Michel Aoun as pres­i­dent and brought Saad Hariri back to the pre­mier­ship is still in­tact, de­spite dif­fer­ences over the de­lay in the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment, Aoun was quoted as say­ing Mon­day.

Speak­ing to vis­i­tors at Baabda Palace, Aoun said that al­though in­ter- nal fac­tors – the ri­val par­ties’ jock­ey­ing for key min­is­te­rial port­fo­lios – are to blame for the de­lay in the gov­ern­ment’s for­ma­tion, there are in­di­ca­tions point­ing to “ex­ter­nal fac­tors” in­flu­enc­ing the for­ma­tion process.

As the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion stale­mate en­tered its third month with no solution in sight, Aoun was re­ported to have been in­fu­ri­ated by the de­lay in the for­ma­tion, and floated the idea of form­ing a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment if a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment rep­re­sent­ing all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties did not work.

Aoun’s stance drew a quick re­sponse from Prime Min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Saad Hariri who said last week that he was des­ig­nated with an over­whelm­ing par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity to form a na­tional en­tente gov­ern- ment em­brac­ing all the par­ties.

The re­ported ten­sions between Aoun and Hariri over the de­lay in the gov­ern­ment’s for­ma­tion had raised ques­tions about the fate of the pres­i­den­tial po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment reached between the two lead­ers. But Aoun de­nied the set­tle­ment which he called a “pact” was in jeop­ardy.

“I and Prime Min­is­ter Hariri be­gan a di­a­logue in Rome 2014.

“The pact [set­tle­ment] was es­tab­lished within the demo­cratic sys­tem.

“We spoke to­gether and we reached [the con­clu­sion] that there are di­vi­sions in the coun­try,” Aoun was quoted as say­ing. Aoun said he had told Hariri that: “You have the ma­jor­ity within the Sunni com­mu­nity and I have the ma­jor­ity within the Chris­tian com­mu­nity, so let’s reach an un­der­stand­ing in or­der to [help] re­build Le­banon.”

“There­fore, the pact came to re­build Le­banon and did not mean a change in [any­one’s] po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tion. All the par­ties, Hezbol­lah, the Fu­ture Move­ment and our [Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment’s] bloc, have ap­pre­ci­ated this pact,” Aoun said, adding that: “We thrashed out a pact that unites all the Le­banese.

“We did not aban­don it and it did not col­lapse.”

Not­ing that he and Hariri are still com­mit­ted to the pact, Aoun said no one can al­ter its main goal.

“With this pact, we were able to con­trol the bor­der with Syria. We crushed ter­ror cells. Se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tuses are work­ing as nor­mal. We

have re­vi­tal­ized tourism. There are po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, but they are le­git­i­mate, and un­der the ceil­ing of this pact,” the pres­i­dent was quoted as say­ing.

Aoun re­it­er­ated his call for the adop­tion of uni­fied cri­te­ria in the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment that re­flected the re­sults of the May 6 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. “A uni­fied cri­te­rion should be adopted in the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion,” he said.

“The Le­banese have fought to have a pro­por­tional elec­toral law so that ma­jori­ties and mi­nori­ties could be rep­re­sented.

“This mat­ter has been achieved 100 per­cent in the [newly elected] Par­lia­ment. The [elec­tion re­sults] should be re­flected in the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment and should be the cri­te­rion that will de­cide the size of every party,” Aoun was quoted as say­ing.

He added that there should be no “sec­tar­ian mo­nop­o­liza­tion” or “marginal­iza­tion of any party” in the gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Aoun said part of the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion prob­lem was that some blocs, which he did not name, ex­ag­ger­ated their par­lia­men­tary size, with a view to gain­ing sig­nif­i­cant Cabi­net rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Al­though he said it was nor­mal for the FPM’s par­lia­men­tary Strong Le­banon bloc, headed by Bas­sil and which com­prises 29 law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing al­lies – mak­ing it the largest bloc in Par­lia­ment – to back him, Aoun sounded skep­ti­cal about the Le­banese Forces’ sup­port for his pres­i­dency. “The Le­banese Forces says they are sup­port­ing me. But I don’t see how,” he said.

The FPM and the LF are linked in the 2016 Maarab Un­der­stand­ing that led to an in­ter-Chris­tian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and con­trib­uted to Aoun’s elec­tion as pres­i­dent. Aoun’s re­marks come as the FPM and the LF are locked in a bit­ter strug­gle over Chris­tian rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the new gov­ern­ment.

The two main Chris­tian par­ties have re­fused to budge on their de­mands for sig­nif­i­cant Cabi­net shares, dash­ing hopes for re­solv­ing the prob­lem of Chris­tian rep­re­sen­ta­tion and, con­se­quently, for any ma­jor break­through in the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion dead­lock. Aoun hinted at ex­ter­nal fac­tors in­flu­enc­ing the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion process.

“On the face of it, there are in­ter­nal fac­tors [de­lay­ing the gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion]. But there are in­di­ca­tions fu­el­ing doubts about ex­ter­nal fac­tors – like for in­stance the move­ment of some am­bas­sadors. But I am not sure, and I don’t have a proof of this,” the pres­i­dent was quoted as say­ing.

Asked as to when the new gov­ern­ment would be formed, Aoun said: “A solution to the Cabi­net cri­sis is a col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity. It is not the re­spon­si­bil­ity of one party or one side.”

Aoun dis­missed re­cent ru­mors about a pos­si­ble col­lapse of the Le­banese pound in view of the wors­en­ing eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion.

“Had it not been for the strong nerves of Le­banese of­fi­cials, the pound would have been shaken by th­ese ru­mors about the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “Yes, the eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is dif­fi­cult, but all peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fi­cul­ties, but even­tu­ally they man­age to fix things and ride out the cri­sis.”

Aoun ap­peared to link the con­ven­ing of all-party talks on a na­tional de­fense strat­egy that would ad­dress the di­vi­sive is­sue of Hezbol­lah’s arms to re­gional de­vel­op­ments.

Asked if he would con­vene na­tional di­a­logue on a de­fense strat­egy fol­low­ing the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment as he had promised, Aoun was quoted as say­ing: “Of course. It will be un­rea­son­able for any­one who does not re­al­ize the need to ex­am­ine the sit­u­a­tion and po­lit­i­cal changes tak­ing place in the re­gion. We need to un­der­stand th­ese changes in or­der to be able to know how to de­fend Le­banon.”

Aoun also de­fended Le­banon’s on­go­ing con­tacts – through Gen­eral Se­cu­rity head Maj. Gen. Ab­bas Ibrahim – with Syria over the re­turn of Syr­ian refugees to their coun­try, and other se­cu­rity is­sues.

“For in­stance, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates can cut off their [diplo­matic] re­la­tions with Syria. But we can­not have our re­la­tions with Syria sev­ered be­cause it is our vi­tal route to Arab coun­tries,” he said.

The pres­i­dent pointed out that the pres­ence of more than 1 mil­lion dis­placed Syr­i­ans in Le­banon was strain­ing the coun­try’s ail­ing econ­omy and frail in­fra­struc­ture. “The Syr­ian refugees are caus­ing a heavy burden on the econ­omy at a cost of $10.5 bil­lion, in ad­di­tion to 35 to 40 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment,” he said.

“What can we do? We must talk to the Syr­i­ans at a spe­cific level and this is what we are do­ing [through Ibrahim]. But this is not enough,” he added.

Aoun re­newed his pre­vi­ous stances, which called for the re­turn of Syr­ian refugees to safe ar­eas in Syr­ian without wait­ing for a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment to the 7-year-old war. “We call for the re­turn of dis­placed Syr­i­ans to safe ar­eas in Syria. The size of safe ar­eas in Syria is equal to five times the size of Le­banon’s area,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.