Aoun-Hariri tensions cloud Cabinet formation
PM-designate rejects option of 32-member govt, lays blame on Hezbollah for impasse
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Friday rejected a 32member Cabinet proposal and also any blame for the delay in the government formation, in the latest twist of a monthslong crisis that has defied several proposals to resolve it.
Hariri’s position came as President Michel Aoun, seemingly infuriated by the delay in the formation, has hinted at the possibility of going to Parliament to urge lawmakers to help in breaking the Cabinet deadlock, now in its seventh month.
The statements issued by Aoun and Hariri apparently reflected tacit tensions between the two leaders over the delay in the Cabinet formation, which has been stalled since late October by a demand by six Hezbollah-backed Sunni MPs for representation in the new government.
A senior source close to Hariri said the prime minister-designate was shouldering “within the scope of his constitutional powers, and the results of parliamentary consultations, his full responsibilities in forming the government.”
“He [Hariri] exerted utmost efforts to reach a national entente lineup that represents the main components of the country.
“The lineup was approved by the president and most of the parties concerned by the participation, and then its announcement was suspended due to the demand to appoint a minister from a parliamentary bloc that was created and installed in the last moment of the formation of the government,” the source said in a statement released by Hariri’s media office.
“It is worth recalling in this context that the prime minister-designate had considered announcing the formation of a government with those willing to participate, if the Lebanese Forces had refused to participate. The side to be held responsible for the suspension of the formation process is the side that suspended it, and any attempt to blame the prime minister-designate for it is a red herring,” the source said.
He was referring to Hezbollah, which has withheld the names of its three ministers, effectively blocking the Cabinet formation, until the six MPs’ demand is met. Hariri has rejected the six MPs’ demand, and also rebuffed their request to meet with him to discuss the issue.
The source said Hariri has made his position clear on the issue of the six MPs’ representation, stressing the 32-member Cabinet proposal to justify the appointment of a minister from the six MPS was unacceptable.
“The prime minister-designate has been honest since the early days of his appointment, saying that he prefers to work on a national entente government of 30 ministers, and the proposal of a government of 32 ministers is not part of the usual context of forming governments,” the source said.
“The reintroduction of this proposal to justify the appointment of a minister from the six MPs and the creation of a new custom in forming governments is unacceptable and the prime minister-designate has expressed his total rejection of it.”
The 32-member Cabinet proposal was among other suggestions discussed during a meeting Thursday between Hariri and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who has been mediating with rival factions to break the Cabinet formation impasse.
Commenting on the possibility Aoun might send a letter to Parliament calling for MPs to question Hariri about the Cabinet formation delay, the source warned against using this step to undermine the prime minister’s powers.
“No one discusses the constitutional right of the president to send a letter to Parliament. This is a power that cannot be contested by anyone and should not be subject to controversy or debate,” the source close to Hariri said, adding: “It should also not be used by some as a means to undermine the powers of the prime minister-designate and impose new constitutional norms contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and the requirements of national entente.”
The statement from Hariri’s office came a few hours after a statement released by Aoun’s media office said that it would be normal for the president to call on Parliament to discuss the stalled government formation if the deadlock persists. Aoun’s statement said media reports had exaggerated the weight of his decision to send the letter.
“What was attributed to the president was not accurate, and some of it was taken out of context and gave contradictory interpretations that do not conform with the president’s declared positions, especially with regard to the return to Parliament to address the Cabinet crisis,” the statement from Aoun’s office said.
“What is true is that the president considers that the Constitution granted lawmakers the right to name a prime minister-designate to form a government through binding parliamentary consultations,” the statement said, adding: “Therefore, if the formation of this government remains deadlocked, it is normal for the president to put this matter in the custody of Parliament to act accordingly.”
Aoun’s statement drew a rebuke from former Premier Fouad Siniora. “Putting the Cabinet formation issue in the hands of Parliament will not lead to resolving the Cabinet formation crisis, but will rather make the situation more complicated, more difficult and more dangerous,” Siniora said in a statement.
The source close to Hariri said the premier-designate would not abandon his commitment to the 2016 political settlement that led to Aoun’s election as president and Hariri’s return to the premiership.
“If some find in the renewed disruption a means to impose political conditions and downsize the premiership’s position in the political system, Prime Minister Hariri will not abandon his adherence to the rules of the political settlement that began with the election of the president,” the source said. He added that Hariri is keen on the success of the presidency. “The protection of this success comes first and foremost by forming a government capable of confronting the risks and challenges and strengthening national unity, not by reducing this unity,” the source said.
Responding to critics of Hariri’s foreign trips, the source said: “Prime Minister Saad Hariri succeeded in rallying friends and brothers to participate in the CEDRE conference, and is entrusted with protecting the results it has achieved, whether as prime minister or as head of the caretaker government.”
Meanwhile, French Ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher warned Lebanon risked losing the opportunity to capitalize on the $11 billion pledged at the CEDRE conference if it did not solve the formation impasse soon.
“It would be a pity if Lebanon fails to take advantage” of the international donor conferences held earlier this year, Foucher said during a news conference on the French frigate Aconit at Beirut’s port.