Lebanon News

Bassil breaks with Hariri, puts pressure on Hezbollah

Bassil leaves after speaking at a news conference in Beirut.

BEIRUT: The relationship between the Free Patriotic Movement and caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri reached a new low Thursday after FPM head Gebran Bassil refused to participate in a techno-political government headed by Hariri. Bassil’s move also appears to break way with ally Hezbollah as the Iran-backed group continues to support Hariri’s reappointment. 

“If Hariri insists on the concept of ‘either me or no one else’ and if Amal and Hezbollah insist on approaching external dangers with a techno-political government headed by Hariri, the FPM and Strong Lebanon bloc are not interested in participating,” Bassil told at a news conference. “The fate of this [type of] government is definitely failure.” 

He added that it was up to FPM’s allies to decide whether they would take part in this type of government.

A techno-political Cabinet is seen by main political sides as a solution to the current impasse. Hariri last week reemerged as a candidate to head the next government after Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy.

Bassil’s announcement was the latest in a string of escalation between the FPM and Hariri over the governmental impasse that began when the premier resigned on Oct. 29, bringing down the government with him. 

Hariri, however, has insisted that he will only return to the premiership if he heads a government of experts. 

Bassil is also against Hariri returning if the shape of the government is to be one free of political party members. 

“I repeat that the solution is by forming a ... government of experts whose head and ministers are competent and of merit ... and that can gain back people’s trust,” Bassil said, adding that they should be backed by political powers and parliamentary blocs. In a government of experts, Bassil said Hariri would pick a candidate to head the Cabinet, who is trusted. The prime minister-designate would then “form a government in consultation with the president.”

Bassil also took an implicit swipe at Hezbollah, calling on the FPM’s “allies that are keen on our presence [in the government] ... to revisit their positions.” 

Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is set to speak Friday at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the latest political developments. 

A source close to Bassil said that Hezbollah “are not happy with his [Bassil’s] move.” 

“They want Hariri,” the source added. 

The source said a potential candidate, if not Hariri, is Judge Nawaf Salam. Asked whether Hezbollah would accept this, the source said: “They have to offer something.”

Earlier in the day, Bassil met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh residence. 

According to a statement from Berri’s office, the two discussed the political developments in the country. Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil was also present. 

Bassil left the meeting without making any comments, but was reported to have told Berri, “We miss having dialogue.” Berri then said that in Lebanon there “is no alternative other than dialogue.” 

Thursday marked the 57th day of nationwide protests against the ruling class. The protests began on Oct. 17 and come at a time when Lebanon is facing worsening economic and financial crisis.

The country is also facing a liquidity issue as commercial banks are limiting cash withdrawals. 

For this purpose, Hariri Thursday affirmed to World Bank President David Malpass and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva his commitment to prepare an urgent rescue plan to address the difficulties facing the country. 

The plan will be prepared “while awaiting the formation of a new government capable of implementing it,” according to a statement from Hariri’s office. 

The statement added that Hariri discussed with the World Bank and IMF officials technical assistance for the preparation of this plan.

He also discussed with Malpass “the possibility that the International Finance Corporation increase its contribution to finance Lebanon’s international trade.” 

This is part of Hariri’s efforts to “avoid any interruption of the imports of the basic needs as a result of the crisis,” the statement added. 

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters the Fund was ready to help. “We are open to supporting the authorities with technical advice as desired by Lebanon,” he said at a regular briefing in Washington.

Lebanon’s sovereign dollar-denominated bonds rallied on news of the potential IMF technical assistance.

Separately, global credit ratings agency Fitch downgraded Lebanon’s long-term foreign currency issuer default rating deeper into junk territory to “CC” from “CCC,” citing a “probable” government debt restructuring or default.

The downgrade came a day after an international support group for Lebanon met in Paris to push for government’s formation. 

The group that includes world powers and international financial institutions said Wednesday it was ready to mobilize support but only after a credible government able to stabilize its finances was in place.

Reports said Thursday that David Hale, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, will visit Lebanon next week to discuss the current political situation in the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 13, 2019, on page 1.




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