BEIRUT: The stalled Cabinet formation process is poised for “decisive days” as contacts and meetings will be intensified to eliminate remaining obstacles following Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s return to Beirut, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said Monday.
“These days are supposed to be decisive with regard to the government formation. The meetings that will be held today, tomorrow and after tomorrow may draw clearly the path of the government,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech, without giving details on those meetings.
Nasrallah’s remarks came as Hezbollah was still mediating with MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, to convince him to support Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiative aimed at breaking the Cabinet formation deadlock, now in its 11th month with no solution in sight
Bassil has described Berri’s Cabinet proposal as a “masked tripartite system” that divides power between Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, instead of equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians as stipulated in the 1989 Taif Accord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War. Berri’s proposal calls for the formation of a 24-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists with no veto power to any side and divides the 24 ministers into three groups: Eight ministers for President Michel Aoun, eight ministers for Hariri and his allies, and eight ministers for Berri’s Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies.
Earlier Monday, an official source said Hariri’s return to Beirut was expected to resume talks on the Cabinet formation crisis, including a possible meeting between the premier-designate and Aoun, to resolve differences over the makeup of a new government to implement reforms and rescue the country from all-out economic collapse.
Hariri returned to Beirut Sunday after a two-week private visit to Abu Dhabi that also included a visit to Istanbul, where he held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on bilateral relations between the two countries and developments in Lebanon and the region.
“Now that Hariri has returned to Beirut, President Aoun expects the premier-designate to visit Baabda Palace to present him with a new Cabinet lineup in the hope of resolving the Cabinet crisis,” the official source familiar with the matter told The Daily Star.
The source said Hariri would not visit Baabda Palace before he consults with Berri and former premiers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam on his next move, including the possibility of stepping down.
Hariri is also expected to chair a meeting of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc to inform them of his decision on whether to push on with his efforts to form a proposed Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists with no blocking one-third plus one [veto power] to any party to enact reforms or step down.
Aoun and Hariri, who are constitutionally mainly responsible for the Cabinet formation, have not been on speaking terms since their last meeting at Baabda Palace on March 22 that failed to resolve their differences over the size and makeup of the government. The two leaders have refused to budge on their conflicting positions and they remain at odds over the distribution of key ministerial seats, namely the Justice and Interior ministries, and the naming of Christian ministers.
Asked on whether Hariri was heading to step down in the face of what Future Movement MPs have said the continued obstruction by Aoun and his son-in-law, Bassil, of his attempts to set up a proposed Cabinet of nonpartisan experts in line with the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon from its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War, the deputy head of the Future Movement Mustapha Alloush said in a statement: “I have no sufficient information to know whether Hariri will step down or form a government. The only obstacle to the government formation is the president’s team.”
Alloush, a former Future MP, said the United States and France were trying to prevent Lebanon’s downfall as a result of multiple crises, including an unprecedented economic meltdown that is hitting the Lebanese hard and threatening them with poverty and hunger.
He was referring to last month’s meeting between the foreign ministers of the United States, France and Saudi Arabia who jointly pushed for Lebanon's squabbling leaders to come together to address the country's mounting crises. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held an impromptu three-way meeting on the Lebanon troubles with his Saudi and French counterparts on the sidelines of talks of the Group of 20 major economies in Matera, Italy.
Future MP Rola Tabsh said she did not foresee the formation of a new government soon, citing “internal obstruction”, in a clear allusion to Aoun and Bassil.
“The idea of the premier-designate stepping down has been on the table since the first day [of Hariri’s designation] and it might happen at any moment in light of developments,” Tabsh told a local radio station. “The decision [to step down] has not been taken yet pending developments this week with regard to Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiative.”
Hariri, who was designated on Oct. 22 to form a new government after caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet resigned last August in the wake of the deadly Beirut Port explosion, has said that stepping down was a “serious option.”
Hariri has put on hold for now his decision to step down in order to give a last chance to Berri’s initiative. Despite being rejected by Aoun and Bassil, Berri has vowed to press on with his initiative.
The Amal Movement Monday renewed its call for the formation of a new government to save the country: “Everyone is called upon to play his role to confront the crisis and take brave decisions,” said a statement issued after the weekly meeting of Amal’s politburo.
“What is required is opening the blocked political horizon and stopping moving in the cycle of the crisis by going to the proposed solution and the formation of a government to restore the world’s confidence in Lebanon and in its role and to listen to the voice of reason and logic and to appeals which want the good for Lebanon, the latest of which is Pope Francis’ appeal. Honest intentions require honest work to save Lebanon,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani is set to visit Beirut Tuesday for talks with top leaders as part of the Gulf state’s efforts to defuse the political crisis in Lebanon.
Sheikh Mohammad is scheduled to meet with Aoun at Baabda Palace before holding talks later with Berri and Hariri.
The Doha-based satellite channel Al-Jazirah said the Qatari minister’s visit was part of “Qatar’s efforts to help in resolving the political crisis in Lebanon.”
During a visit to Beirut in February, Sheikh Mohammad told Lebanese leaders they needed to form a new government before they could get aid to pull the country from its economic and financial crisis. In 2008, Qatar hosted rival Lebanese leaders, brokering the "Doha agreement" that ended 18 months of political conflict and averted the risk of civil war.