BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement will not participate in the next government but will support it, its leader MP Gebran Bassil said Sunday, as Lebanon neared the 15-day deadline for forming a new Cabinet.
“We don’t have a desire to participate in the new government, we don’t want to participate in it,” Bassil said during a televised speech.
He said that since the beginning, his party cared about one thing, which was for the government to be efficient and reformist with its prime minister, ministers and agenda.
“When we say we don’t have conditions, it means that our participation is not a condition for our support to the new government,” he clarified, adding that his party will help the new government achieve reforms from Parliament.
Bassil expressed his opposition to appointing one minister with two portfolios, saying that they are being set up for failure, and that past experiences and the last government are proof of that.
“We are with the rotation of portfolios among sects but if a certain sect got a ministry multiple times including in the last government, that does not create a norm,” he said, addressing Amal Movement leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who has insisted on the Shiite sect to take over the Finance Ministry in the next Cabinet.
Berri’s insistence over the Finance Ministry intensified after the US slapped sanctions on his top aide and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, and created a big hurdle in the Cabinet formation process.
The speaker refused to give up the Finance portfolio, even after receiving a phone call from French President Emmanuel Macron himself Saturday.
“A norm is created with everyone’s acceptance, and the constitution is clear to not allocate a ministry to a sect,” Bassil said.
The Finance Ministry has been held by four Shiite ministers since the Taif Accord in 1990. Two Shiite ministers held the position in the '90s, and two since 2014, including current caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni. It was held by Sunnis and Maronites in-between.
Bassil added that he did not want to open up a dispute over the matter and that his party will go with whatever is agreed upon, without acknowledging any norms.
Lebanese politicians promised Macron during his visit to Beirut on Sept. 2 that a new Cabinet would be formed within 15 days, however no progress has been made and new impediments have emerged before Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib to form the government with only a few days remaining till the deadline is up.
The formation of a new Cabinet is part of Macron's initiative for Lebanon to emerge from its economic and financial woes, which he announced after the deadly Beirut Port blast.
Bassil said his party is committed to the French initiative for Lebanon despite the presence of foreign and internal forces who want its failure.
“I understand foreign forces wanting to ruin the French initiative because they have political agendas that revolve around creating chaos ... but I don’t understand domestic forces ruining for different reasons a reformist initiative Lebanese people want and are demanding, which is in their interest,” Bassil said.
The FPM head said that his party is committed to the French initiative because it is the “logical and practical solution available to save Lebanon."
“As the Free Patriotic Movement, we are committed to the success of the French initiative, but have a great fear that it will not succeed,” Bassil said.
He added that the FPM accepted the French initiative because it revolves around a specific reforms program and its priority is for Lebanon to come out of its economic and financial crisis, without bringing in political elements such as weapons and elections which could become points of dispute and overshadow reforms.
On the topic of neutrality, a stance religious leaders in country have been calling for recently, Bassil said he views it as a positive thing for Lebanon but “requires dialogue and internal agreement.”
Lebanon should wrap up southern border demarcation talks to usher back the process of oil and gas exploration in its sea, Free Patriotic Movement head MP Gebran Bassil said Sunday.
"Concluding the demarcation talks will also speed up the process of extraction of oil and gas from the sea," Bassil said in a televised speech, adding that it is in Lebanon’s interest to end the process based on a fair demarcation that does not encroach on its sovereignty.
However the oil and gas issue has a geo-political aspect to it, he said.
“The biggest proof is what happened in Block 4 ... they [drilling company] discovered tremendous gas pressure that heralded big quantities, and told us that a quiet drilling method should be adopted to prevent any gas explosions,” Bassil said.
“We were surprised the next day that the amount [of gas discovered] was little and non-commercial,” he added.
The energy minister announced back in April that preliminary data from drilling operations in Block 4 had failed to verify the presence of any commercial quantities gas, and that a detailed report would later be released after data and samples from the well were analyzed.
Lebanon signed two exploration and production agreements for Blocks 4 and 9 off the Lebanese coast with French oil company Total.
Exploration of Block 9 has not been carried out yet as it is a point of contention between Lebanon and Israel, with the latter claiming ownership over part of it.
Bassil said that oil companies around the world have slowed down their operations due to coronavirus however it is not possible to overlook the geo-political factors that delay exploration and production operations.