BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s final nomination of businessman Samir Khatib for prime minister depends largely on the distribution of key ministerial portfolios in the next government, a Future Movement official said Thursday.
President Michel Aoun is set to hold one-day binding parliamentary consultations with lawmakers Monday to designate a new prime minister, more than a month after Hariri resigned as prime minister under pressure of nationwide street protests against the ruling political elite that have rocked Lebanon since Oct. 17.
“Although Prime Minister Hariri has announced his support for Samir Khatib’s candidacy, there is no final decision yet for his nomination for the premiership pending the clarification of some details relating to the distribution of sovereign ministries among the major parties,” Mustafa Alloush, a member of the Future Movement’s politburo, told The Daily Star.
He was referring to the so-called “sovereign” ministries that had caused wrangling in the past among political rivals in the formation of any government: The Finance, Interior, Foreign and Defense ministries, in addition to the much-coveted Energy, Justice and Telecommunications ministries.
Alloush, a former Future MP, said if Khatib gained the majority of MPs’ votes during the parliamentary consultations to be held by Aoun at Baabda Palace, he would form a techno-political government that would exclude “provocative figures.”
“The entire [Cabinet] deal is to exclude [caretaker Foreign Minister] Gebran Bassil,” he added.
Bassil, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, offered Tuesday to stay out of the next government.
Khatib is an executive vice president of engineering company Khatib & Alami, according to the firm’s website. He has met with Hariri more than once, as well as with officials from other parties in a bid to enlist their support for the premiership.
Aoun said Thursday he hoped a new government would be formed quickly to carry out essential reforms as Lebanon was in the grips of the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War.“The new government’s priorities will be to achieve the essential reforms in various sectors, fighting corruption and rectifying defects in the work of the state and its institutions,” the president said, according to a statement from his media office.
Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis has been aggravated since the unprecedented popular uprising began, spiraling into a financial crunch that led banks to impose informal capital controls as dollars became scarce and the local currency weakened.
Prospects of a prime minister being designated helped the Lebanese pound to strengthen. Dollars were being offered on a parallel market at 1,980 pounds compared to 2,030 pounds Wednesday. The official rate is 1,507.5 pounds.
A Baabda Palace source said parliamentary consultations were set to go ahead as scheduled Monday.
“There are at least 65 MPs who will vote for Khatib. That’s the majority and you don’t need two-thirds to designate a premier. Whoever gets the most votes will be nominated,” the source said.
According to the source, 27 votes from the FPM, 30 from the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, six from the Consultative Gathering, five from the Marada Movement, MPs Osama Saad and Fouad Makhzoumi would all nominate Khatib for the premiership.
“This would mean that the government would be formed with one political side. And the president has to respect the will of the MPs if this happens,” the source said.
Asked whether the president would postpone the consultations if there was a clear rejection of Khatib from the Future Movement and the Sunni community, the source said: “As of now, there is no intention to postpone. This is why the president gave four days before the consultations take place so that these issues can be worked out.”
If things go as planned, the proposed techno-political government would be made up of 18 or 24 ministers. Caretaker Ministers Ali Hasan Khalil, Salim Jreissati and Mohammad Fneish are the only locks for the next government so far, the source said. “There are efforts to make sure Khalil isn’t the finance minister, rather a minister of state. Amal will retain the Finance Ministry though,” the source said.
Jreissati, although many local and international politicians have complained about him, is a lock “because the president is comfortable with him.”
Bassil will not be back as a minister, but he wants Nada Boustani back as energy minister, the source said.
However, “Hezbollah is still adamant on having Hariri back as prime minister. There is an economic crisis in the country and they won’t let him off the hook or not to be held accountable,” the source said, without elaborating.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea lashed out at proposals to form a techno-political government, saying it would include representatives of the ruling elite that had been at the root of the country’s destruction.
“Lebanon is in the middle of the storm of the financial and economic collapse. Signs of this collapse have been clear for a long time, but the ministerial majority did not take any serious reform steps in the right direction,” Geagea told a news conference after chairing a meeting of the LF’s parliamentary Strong Republic bloc at his residence in Maarab.
“Fifty days after the peaceful popular uprising that is demanding a new salvation government, in words and in deeds, through independent technocrats, the regime group is preparing to set up a government, part of which is only technocrats and the other is politicians,” Geagea said, adding: “Even the technocrats in it will not be independent, but merely technical advisers to the same ruling elite. In other words, their real decision will be made by this same elite that had been at the root of the country’s destruction.”
“What is required today is a specialized government fully independent from the regime parties,” he added.
Geagea’s harsh criticism of the proposed techno-political government clearly indicated that the LF would not participate in it.
A U.S. official, addressing a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, noted that more than $11 billion in financing had been pledged to Lebanon last year in Paris if it acts seriously on reform.
“But there is no Western country that is going to jump in there and say ‘we are going to bail you out this time once again even though you haven’t gotten the message from your people and even though you haven’t committed to reform,’” said Joey Hood, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.