Lebanon News

Political crisis prompting economic suicide: Hariri

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri smiles while speaking to Russian foreign minister officials as he waits to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

BEIRUT: The vacant presidency, deadlocked Parliament and paralyzed Cabinet are having dire consequences on socio-economic conditions in Lebanon, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri warned Wednesday.

Hariri’s remarks come on the eve of a gathering that leading private sector figures and union members are planning to hold to highlight the grave economic consequences of the political crisis.

“We are fully aware of these problems and challenges, and I join my voice to those meeting at BIEL [Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure center] tomorrow [Thursday], to rightfully decry this ‘national suicide,’ in light of our deteriorating economy,” Hariri said in a post on his official Twitter page.

“Our Future Movement MPs and Cabinet members will have a [free reign] to study the recommendations made at tomorrow’s meeting and we will do all we can to implement the necessary solutions ... for the well-being of all Lebanese, in all of Lebanon,” he added.

The large-scale gathering, dubbed “The June 25 Declaration – A Decision Against Suicide,” is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday at BIEL. The General Labor Confederation and a number of civil society groups have also pledged to attend.

“We will say, ‘It is enough. We have reached a point where remaining silent is a crime,’” said Mohammad Choucair, president of the Union of Chambers of Commerce, Agriculture and Industry.

“The presidential palace is closed and there is fear that this [could] torpedo the republic altogether – Parliament is paralyzed and the Cabinet is at risk of exploding,” Choucair told The Daily Star.

He said that even the work the government has done to preserve the country’s security was at risk, pointing to the dispute between Cabinet parties over security appointments.

“Where do they want to take the country? The level of unemployment has reached 35 percent – it is 25 percent among the youth. People should decide whether they want to live under humiliation or with dignity.”

Choucair said it was the first time that such a gathering would bring together representatives of all branches of the economy, adding that escalatory steps could follow, including strikes and civil disobedience.

Lebanon has been without a president since May of last year, as the March 8 and March 14 alliances have vetoed each other’s candidates.

The Parliament failed to elect a head of state for the 25th time Wednesday. Speaker Nabih Berri has scheduled another election session for July 15. The presidential interregnum has crippled Parliament’s work. The legislature has not met since Nov. 5, when it extended its term for two years and seven months.

The Cabinet, which had been one of the few functioning institutions in the country, is now paralyzed. It has not met since June 4, due to a dispute over key security appointments, at a time when the country faces major security threats from militant groups on the northeastern border.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun has said that his ministers will not allow the Cabinet to discuss any items on its agenda before first appointing his son-in-law, Brig. Gen. Shamel Roukoz, to the top military post of Army commander.

The deep political crisis comes at a time of rising unemployment and slowing tourism. The country’s infrastructure is becoming increasingly overburdened due to the influx of more than a million Syrian refugees.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a member of Aoun’s FPM, said after visiting Berri that the Cabinet could not draft an agenda for an upcoming session without consulting with his party.

“We represent the president and we are partners in this government, therefore Cabinet can’t make an agenda without taking our opinion [into account],” Bassil said.

“Let the prime minister call for a session. We will attend and deliberate, but we have a clear demand and that is for the issue of security appointments to be the first item on the agenda,” he told reporters.

The meeting between Bassil and Berri was seen as a move to improve ties with the speaker, which have become strained in recent weeks.

Although they are both members of the March 8 coalition, a number of disputes have emerged between Aoun and Berri.

The speaker opposes Aoun’s insistence that the government appoint an Army commander now, as the term of Gen. Jean Kahwagi does not expire until Sep. 23. Aoun’s bloc also refused to attend a Parliament session which Berri was planning to call last month, demanding that a new election law and a bill allowing foreigners of Lebanese origin to acquire nationality be on the agenda.

But sources close to Berri downplayed the significance of the meeting, saying Bassil visited the speaker with a delegation of six other foreign ministers, the EU deputy president, and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, who are all attending a conference of Arab-Mediterranean foreign ministers in Beirut.

The sources said that Bassil and Berri did not discuss the political crisis.

Berri reiterated his call for rival Lebanese parties to reactivate the work of state institutions during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence, according to MPs in attendance.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 25, 2015, on page 1.

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