Lebanon News

Nasrallah holds key to resolving Aoun-Berri feud

An image grab taken from Hezbollah's al-Manar TV on December 7, 2017, shows Hassan Nasrallah giving a televised address from an undisclosed location in Lebanon following the US president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The escalating feud between President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri over the signing of a controversial decree promoting a number of Army officers, which has reflected a long-simmering political discord between the two leaders, can be resolved only by direct intervention by Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, parliamentary sources said Friday.

Although political sources at Baabda Palace said they are unaware yet of any Hezbollah mediation attempt to settle the Aoun-Berri dispute, the majority of parliamentary blocs and official circles are convinced that “this dilemma, which has reached a dangerous limit, can be resolved only by direct intervention by Sayyed Nasrallah, who enjoys full confidence from both President [Michel] Aoun and Speaker [Nabih] Berri,” the sources said.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri has broken his silence on the widening row over the officers’ promotion decree by warning that any political tension would affect the country as a whole.

“We don’t need any internal political tension, especially amid the [bouts of] madness, wars and blood happening around us in the region,” he said.

Referring to the Aoun-Berri rift over the decree, which has been signed by the president and the prime minister, and which sidestepped the finance minister’s approval, promoting a number of Army officers who served under Aoun in the late 1980s when he was the Army commander, Hariri said Thursday: “There are legal and constitutional points of view on the decree and there are solutions on the condition that the problem be put in its correct context and not exaggerated.”

A few days after MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said he feels proud of Aoun being president, Berri pronounced the 1989 Taif Accord, the Constitution and the power-sharing formula between Muslims and Christians dead after he implicitly accused the president of violating the accord by signing the officers’ promotion decree and ignoring the need for the finance minister’s approval.

It is no longer a secret, especially after everyone, including the president and the Parliament speaker, have acknowledged that the differences between Aoun and Berri have transcended technical matters and the implementation of constitutional articles on the leaders’ powers, becoming a political discord, whose details and reasons have not yet been disclosed by any of the two leaders, the sources said.

Parliamentary sources in Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc said that adherence to what Hariri declared provided “a possible and logical solution to the crisis” between the president and the Parliament speaker.

What prompted the president to say there is “a political struggle” behind the decree dispute are leaks to the media from Ain al-Tineh [Berri’s residence] that exceeded the legal dispute over the signing of the decree, by accusing Aoun of violating the Taif Accord, as well as the talk about a flaw in sectarian balance within the Army as a result of the decree, the sources said.

The sources added that the attitudes of Berri, who also heads the Amal Movement, insisted on the signing of the Shiite finance minister of all decrees, even ordinary ones, contrary to the provision of Article 54 in the Constitution which did not mention the finance minister specifically but referred to the relevant ministers. Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, who has dismissed the officers’ decree as “null and void,” is a key political aide to Berri.

The Taif Accord was clear in outlining the powers of the three top constitutional institutions – the presidency, the premiership and the speakership – and was keen on balancing them, the sources said.

“But the flaw today stems from an attempt to consecrate a quadripartite signing, by the president, the prime minister, the relevant minister and the finance minister of all decrees, something that is not stipulated by the Constitution,” the same sources said.

“This will affect equilibrium among the branches of power, especially since the powers vested with a minister not to sign decrees if he wished, even those issued by the Cabinet, are absolute powers. This means that a minister can leave a decree in the drawers while the president is obliged, under the Constitution, to sign it within 15 days, or else the decree will become effective,” the sources added.

The sources hoped that there are “no deliberate intentions to cripple Aoun’s term following clear cooperation between the presidency and the premiership.”

The sources spoke of “a clear tendency” to establish an electoral alliance during next year’s parliamentary elections between the Future Movement led by Hariri and the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun and currently headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 30, 2017, on page 2.

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