Lebanon News

Diab vows effective govt but designation fuels protests

Diab speaks to journalists at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Dec. 19, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab pledged Thursday to quickly form an effective government to steer the country, rocked by an unprecedented 2-month-old popular uprising, to stability through the implementation of a reform plan to rescue the deteriorating economic situation.

Speaking to reporters at Baabda Palace shortly after he was designated by President Michel Aoun to form a new government after receiving the support of a parliamentary majority, Diab also promised to fulfill the demands of thousands of Lebanese who have taken to the streets since Oct. 17, calling for an overhaul of the decades-old sectarian system and the removal of the entire political elite.

Despite being backed by Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, and lacking the support of caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement and most Sunni lawmakers, Diab said the new government would never be a “confrontation government.”

Offering himself as an “independent” from political parties, Diab, 60, an engineering professor at the American University of Beirut and a former education minister, asked the Lebanese to give him a chance to form a new government as soon as possible, stressing that all efforts should be geared toward preventing an all-out collapse of the country.

“I will work hard to form a government as soon as possible through consultations with former prime ministers, parliamentary blocs and all lawmakers. I will expand consultations to include all political parties and also the popular [protest] movement,” Diab said. “I will listen to all opinions so that we can start with an effective government based on popular will.”

“I will work in agreement with the president, in accordance with the Constitution, so that the government will be up to the aspirations of the Lebanese, addressing their concerns, achieving their demands, and reassuring them about their future and move the country from the current state of imbalance to a stage of stability through the implementation of a realistic reform plan,” Diab said.

Seeking to appease the protesters, Diab said: “I am a specialized person and priority will be given to specialists [technocrats in the new government].”

However, Diab’s designation to form the next government quickly drew a negative reaction from protesters who blocked several roads across the country Thursday night.

Scores of Hariri’s supporters gathered outside of Diab’s residence in Beirut’s Talet al-Khayat area, shouting slogans against the premier-designate and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.“We have nothing against Dr. Hassan Diab, but we object to the fact that he was nominated to the premiership by only six Sunni MPs,” one protester told a local TV station. Hariri’s supporters also demonstrated on Corniche al-Mazraa to denounce Diab’s designation, saying Diab did not represent the Sunni sect.

A protester called on Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s highest Sunni authority, to speak out against Diab’s nomination “because it ignores the opinion of Sunnis in the country.”

Hariri called on his supporters to leave the streets and asked them not to block roads. Those protesting under Diab’s residence withdrew shortly after.

Diab said he will start Saturday consultations with political parties and representatives of the popular movement on the formation of a new government.

He emphasized that political stability and security were of “utmost necessity and the cornerstone of the country’s protection,” praising the Lebanese Army and other security forces for their efforts in protecting stability.

He addressed the protesters by saying their “uprising represents me.”

“From my position as an independent, I appeal to you with honesty and transparency to assert that your uprising has corrected the political life in Lebanon. You are pulsing with life and you don’t give in to despair,” Diab said.

“You are the source of authority in deeds and not in words. Over 64 days, I have listened to your voices, which expressed chronic pain and anger against the situation we have reached, especially the rampant corruption. I felt that your uprising represents me as it represents all those who want the rise of a genuine state in Lebanon, a state based on justice and law.”

He said the protesters’ voices “should remain an alarm bell that the Lebanese will no longer allow a return to conditions before Oct. 17,” the date the protests started.

During the twice-delayed binding parliamentary consultations held by Aoun at Baabda Palace, Diab secured the votes of 69 MPs from various blocs against main challenger Judge Nawaf Salam, who got 13 votes. Forty-two MPs, including the Future Movement bloc’s 18 MPs, did not nominate any candidate.

After returning to his residence, Diab was asked whether his government would confront the protesters. “My government will never be a confrontation government.”

Diab emerged as the favorite candidate Wednesday evening after an agreement was reached on his nomination by officials from Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the FPM and their allies.

The Future Movement’s bloc will not participate in the new government, Future MP Samir Jisr told local media.

The Lebanese Forces’ 15-member Strong Republic bloc, which refrained from naming any candidate, has said that it would not participate in the new government.

The Progressive Socialist Party’s nine-member Democratic Gathering bloc, nominated Salam for the premiership. The bloc would also not join the next government, PSP leader Walid Jumblatt told The Daily Star.

In his statement, Diab said: “All our efforts should be geared toward halting the collapse, restoring the confidence and safeguarding national unity.” He called on the protest movement to join his effort.

“I call on the Lebanese in all squares and areas to be partners in launching the salvation process,” he said.

Diab’s designation came a day after Hariri bowed out of the premiership race after citing differences between him and Aoun, the FPM, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah over the shape of the next government and reiterated his demand for a government of technocrats independent from political parties as a condition for accepting to form a new government.

Hariri cited for his decision the lack of “weighty Christian support” for his designation after the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc said it would not nominate him, while the LF’s bloc said it would refrain from naming anyone for prime minister.

The international community has called for Lebanon to form a new, credible government as quickly as possible to avoid a total economic and financial collapse, quell popular anger and enact a series of key reforms in order to unlock over $11 billion in grants and soft loans pledged at last year’s CEDRE conference.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2019, on page 1.

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