Lebanon News

Relax and let me work, Berri tells Hariri

An anti-government protester decorates a Christmas tree inside a tent in downtown Beirut, Dec. 17, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Calm prevailed between politicians Tuesday, a day after tensions escalated between President Michel Aoun and caretaker premier Saad Hariri over the postponement of the parliamentary consultations.

Hariri made an unannounced visit to Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter’s Ain al-Tineh residence to discuss the latest developments ahead of Thursday’s scheduled parliamentary consultations to nominate a new premier.

According to one political source with knowledge of the content of Tuesday’s meeting, Hariri remains the only candidate to be nominated for now.

“[Speaker] Berri told Hariri to relax and let him work,” over the next 24 hours, the source told The Daily Star. “As of now, Hariri remains the only option. Unless he, himself, names a different candidate from now until Thursday,” the source added.

The meeting came after tense relations between the two over the government formation process, which was evident during the Nov. 22 Independence Day celebrations.

During Tuesday’s meeting that lasted for more than an hour and a half, Berri and Hariri agreed on the need for “the quick formation of a government [which] has become more urgent.”

The statement from Berri’s office said this issue should be approached and dealt with in a calm atmosphere “away from political tension,” where the country’s best interests should be prioritized above any other interests.

There has been no breakthrough on the governmental deadlock since Hariri resigned from premiership on Oct 29, bringing down the government with him.

Binding parliamentary consultations were slated for Monday after being postponed on Dec. 9. Nevertheless, Aoun announced Monday that he postponed the consultations for the second time until Thursday.

Aoun said that the decision came upon a request from Hariri in order to allow for more time for discussions on the government formation. But this resulted in a war of words between Hariri and Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement, which he founded.

Hariri’s office then issued a statement saying that the postponement of parliamentary consultations was designed to avoid “constitutional and national problems.”

The statement said the request came as the FPM was planning to put its votes at the president’s disposal and after Hariri was informed that the Lebanese Forces were going to refrain from naming any candidate. The FPM and the LF are the country’s two biggest Christian parties.

“This would have led to a designation without the participation of any weighty Christian bloc, contrary to Prime Minister Hariri’s constant concern for the requirements of national reconciliation,” the statement from Hariri’s office said.

The political source said the LF’s move caught Hariri by surprise, thus leading him to ask for the delay.

There are question marks over whether the LF was given advice from foreign leaders ahead of their decision, according to the source.

Senior U.S. diplomat David Hale is expected to visit Beirut later this week.

Hariri Tuesday contacted Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, during which Hariri clarified that his statement earlier in the week, on the participation of Christian parties was not intended to undermine Marada, its parliamentary bloc or other independent Christian MPs.

“Hariri expressed his gratitude to all the MPs who were going to name him and considered that all votes are significant in the constitutional path that guarantees our unique democratic system,” a statement from Hariri’s office said.

Hariri also discussed with Frangieh “the difficulties facing the parliamentary consultations and their repercussions on the opportunities to address the social and economic crisis facing Lebanon.”

Lebanon is facing worsening economic and financial conditions as commercial banks have set a limit for cash withdrawal and as the value of the Lebanese pound in relation to the dollar has decreased significantly.

The developments come on the 62nd day of the country’s nationwide protests, which began on Oct. 17 against the ruling class.

During the past few days, the protests have been witnessing tensions mounting into clashes with security forces. Caretaker Interior Minister Raya El Hassan warned protesters of infiltrators whose aim is to cause trouble with the security forces.

Clashes erupted Monday between a group of men believed to be supporters of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah and security forces after a video emerged with insults against the Shiite sects and the parties’ leaders.

Both Berri and Hariri condemned the video amid fears that it would instigate sectarian strife.

“[Berri and Hariri] stressed that during this phase, the Lebanese should remain aware and on alert and they should not be dragged into strife that some are working very hard towards,” said a statement from the speaker’s office.

They said that these attempts can only be fought by preserving civil peace, national unity and rejecting strife.

The statement added that the two agreed that the security forces and the Lebanese Army should be given the room to practice their role “and to implement their missions in preserving security and people’s safety as well as protecting public and private properties.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 18, 2019, on page 1.




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