Aoun-Hariri ten­sions cloud Cab­i­net for­ma­tion

PM-des­ig­nate re­jects op­tion of 32-mem­ber govt, lays blame on Hezbol­lah for im­passe

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

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.

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