BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Thursday his meeting with President Michel Aoun showed that the two main hurdles that have stalled the formation of a new government for months still remained unresolved: the naming of Christian ministers and the Free Patriotic Movement’s refusal to grant the Cabinet a vote of confidence.
Hariri also said the FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, who did not nominate him as prime minister-designate during the binding parliamentary consultations last year, did not want to grant the new government a confidence vote and but still wanted to gain a blocking one-third plus one [veto power].
He said his Future parliamentary bloc will not name anyone in Aoun's upcoming consultations with MPs to choose a new PM-designate, but stressed that the only solution to help Lebanon out of its crippling economic and political crises was the formation of a government regardless of its head to work with the International Monetary Fund on a financial rescue program and to supervise next year's general elections.
Hariri spoke during an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Thursday night hours after he said he decided to step down after President Michel Aoun rejected his new Cabinet lineup of 24 nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms and rescue the crises-ridden country. Hariri’s dramatic move came nearly nine months after his designation by a parliamentary majority to form a new government,
Hariri said he told Aoun he was stepping down after failing to agree with him on the proposed Cabinet lineup. Thursday’s was the second meeting with Aoun in nearly four months and came a day after the premier-designate presented the president with a new Cabinet lineup in the hope of ending a political stalemate that for nearly 11 months has left Lebanon without a fully empowered government to tackle multiple crises, including an unprecedented economic meltdown.
Hariri said the proposed Cabinet lineup of 24 nonpartisan specialists was in line with the French initiative and also Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiative. Both initiatives call for a new Cabinet without a blocking one-third plus one [veto power] granted to any side.
“I hoped that President Michel Aoun will study the [Cabinet] lineup in 24 hours and I did not impose my conditions, but they [Aoun and the FPM] understood it this way,” Hariri said.
“I nominated myself to solve the country’s problem according to the French initiative. Today, I apologized for not forming President Michel Aoun’s government. I was following Speaker Nabih Berri’s paper [initiative] but President Aoun wants everything. I asked President Aoun today about the subject of granting confidence and the naming of Christian [ministers]. He gave me the same answer that the Free Patriotic Movement’s bloc might grant me a quarter of confidence,” Hariri said.
“In what logic are they demanding a blocking one-third [plus one] while they did not nominate me [as PM-designate] and they do not want to grant me confidence?” he asked. “President Michel Aoun wants the formation of Michel Aoun’s government. If the president wants to form the government, let them change the Constitution.”
Hariri said he stepped down because Aoun "does not want to cooperate with Saad Hariri.”
Yet, he said he did not close the door to changing the names of some ministers in the Cabinet list, “but I discovered that we are wasting time.”
“When I told President Aoun that I will visit him tomorrow [Friday] at 4 pm, his answer was there is no need for that,” he added.
In a clear reference to Aoun and the FPM whom Hariri have accused of blocking the government with their insistence on gaining veto power, he said: “There is a team that has decided to torture the country and take it to hell. They do not want to cooperate with Saad Hariri.”
“The only solution is for a government to be formed irrespective of the name of its head provided that it works to achieve the IMF’s program and hold elections. This is what I wanted to work on,” Hariri said.
Lebanon is suffering an economic depression the World Bank has described as one of the most severe in modern history. Its currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value in less than two years, leading to spiraling poverty and crippling shortages.
Hariri said he will not name a candidate to form a Cabinet. He said once Aoun set a date for binding parliamentary consultations to appoint a new premier, he would consult with his allies and former premiers to decide on this issue. He refused to answer a question on whether former premier Najib Mikati was the most favorite candidate to form the next government.
While highly praising Berri for supporting him during the tough negotiations with Aoun on the Cabinet formation, Hariri criticized Hezbollah for not exerting enough pressure on its ally, Bassil, to soften his tough conditions and facilitate the formation.
“I did not see Hezbollah’s pressure on Bassil to facilitate the Cabinet formation. The party might have exerted pressure but no one believes [it did not pay off]. The party did not exert sufficient efforts to facilitate the Cabinet formation,” he said.
Hezbollah officials had met with Bassil several times in a bid to convince him to support Berri’s initiative to break the Cabinet deadlock.
Bassil has rejected Berri’s Cabinet proposal, describing it 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 divides the 24 ministers in a Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists into three groups: Eight ministers for Aoun, eight ministers for Hariri and his allies, and eight ministers for Berri’s Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies.