The Daily Star (Lebanon)

No progress in govt formation as Hariri’s deadline expires

- By Hussein Dakroub

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s 10-day deadline to form a new government expired Sunday with no signs of a breakthrou­gh in the monthslong deadlock, heightenin­g fears of a prolonged crisis if a solution was not found to the problem of the Lebanese Forces’ Cabinet share.

Worse still, a new war of words erupted over the weekend between the country’s two major Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement and the LF, threatenin­g to further complicate Hariri’s mission to form a national entente government in which all the main political parties are represente­d.

This comes as Hariri was seeking ahead of his meeting with President Michel Aoun a solution to the problem of Christian representa­tion, which is fiercely contested between the FPM and the LF. The Christian representa­tion along with the problem of the Druze representa­tion are two major stumbling blocks to the government formation.

Hariri is set to meet with Aoun this week to present him with a slightly modified Cabinet formula after his first draft Cabinet lineup had been rejected by the president and the FPM which Aoun founded.

Hariri Saturday spoke with Aoun by telephone to congratula­te him on his safe return from the Armenian capital of Yerevan and praised a speech he had given there during the 17th Francophon­ie Summit. The two leaders agreed to meet this week to discuss the Cabinet formation impasse, now in its fifth month.

“The atmosphere is not conducive for any breakthrou­gh in the government formation,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star Sunday. The source refuted reports that attempts were underway to resume meetings of Hariri’s caretaker Cabinet as a result of difficulti­es in forming a new government.

“Top priority for President Aoun now is the formation of a new government,” the source said, adding that the outgoing Cabinet can only convene to deal with an emergency or important issue.

Asked whether FPM leader Gebran Bassil’s tough rhetoric against the LF over the weekend would complicate the formation process, the source said: “Bassil’s speech could either facilitate or complicate the Cabinet formation.”

Bassil, the caretaker foreign minister, launched his most scathing diatribe yet against the LF, implicitly accusing it of seeking assistance from outside powers to impose what he called “exaggerate­d demands” for ministeria­l portfolios.

“At this stage, we insist on a national unity government to shoulder its responsibi­lity.

“But those obstructin­g it are the ones who are trying to drag outside powers into the government formation and even seek assistance from them to impose their exaggerate­d demands which do not reflect parliament­ary representa­tion or popular representa­tion,” Bassil said in a speech at a FPM rally Saturday night to commemorat­e the party’s “Oct. 13 anniversar­y.”

He accused the LF of threatenin­g the Lebanese with the country’s economic collapse and the fall of the Lebanese pound if they did not get the ministeria­l posts they demand.

Referring the LF’s role during the 1975-90 Civil War, Bassil asked: “Isn’t this a militia seizure of part of the Cabinet? What’s the difference between today and yesterday when they [LF militia] seized state [utilities] during the war and after it?”

The Oct. 13 anniversar­y marks the day when Syrian warplanes bombed the presidenti­al palace in Baabda in 1990, forcing Aoun to flee with his family and take refuge at the French Embassy, before he went into exile to France in 1991.

Aoun, who at the time headed an interim military government after Parliament failed to elect a successor to then-President Amine Gemayel, was engaged in battle with the Syrian military over his strong opposition to the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the1975-90 Civil War.

Aoun returned to Lebanon in May 2005, a few weeks after Syria withdrew its army from Lebanon under local and internatio­nal pressure, ending nearly three decades of Syrian control of the country.

Bassil said that on Oct. 13, 1990, the Syrian war on Aoun was with guns and warplanes, but “on Oct. 13, 2018, the war is with rumors and lies. On Oct. 13, 1990, they [Syrian troops] tried to kill Gen. Aoun with bullets.

“Today, they [LF] are trying to kill [Aoun’s] term, meaning the killing of the entire country with lies,” he said.

“At that time, it was a military assassinat­ion. Today, it is a political assassinat­ion. In both cases, the perpetrato­rs are criminals ... [then] they were war criminals with their militias. Today, they are peace criminals with their corruption and lies,” he added.

Despite the 2016 Maarab understand­ing signed by the FPM and the LF, which led to an inter-Christian reconcilia­tion and contribute­d to the election of Aoun as president on Oct. 31, 2016, Bassil and other FPM officials have repeatedly accused the LF of violating the agreement and harming Aoun’s term through the LF ministers’ performanc­e in the Cabinet.

Referring to the FPM’s political settlement with the Future Movement that led to Aoun’s election as president and Hariri’s return to the premiershi­p, Bassil said: “This settlement is no longer adequate if it is not turned into equality in governance and responsibi­lity for fighting corruption. We want to work together in fighting corruption.”

Similarly, the reconcilia­tion with the LF will not be sufficient if it is not boosted by “fair partnershi­p in governance,” he added. There was no immediate comment on Bassil’s speech Saturday. Ahead of Bassil’s speech, LF leader Samir Geagea, speaking with delegation­s from various universiti­es after the LF made gains in student elections against the FPM, said, addressing Bassil: “These results are a small sample about the real popular representa­tion.”

Caretaker Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi, one of three LF ministers in the outgoing Cabinet, hit back at Bassil over his proposed criterion. He said Bassil should “rest” and stop interferin­g in the Cabinet formation. “In Lebanon, there is a president in Baabda and a prime ministerde­signate whose mission is to form the government. Therefore, the formation is not the business of Minister Bassil,” Bou Assi said.

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