Lebanon News

Aoun-Hariri accord boosts Cabinet breakthrough hopes

Hariri speaks to reporters after his meeting with Aoun at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Wednesday, July 25, 2018. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri agreed Wednesday on two formulas on the distribution of Cabinet shares among the country’s key blocs, raising hopes for a major breakthrough in the two-month government deadlock, political sources said.

During their hour-and-a-half meeting at Baabda Palace, Hariri also put forward an alternative proposal for discussion if the two formulas failed to gain the approval of the blocs’ leaders, a political source familiar with the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star.

Falling short of a draft Cabinet lineup, the two formulas distribute Cabinet shares among the key blocs, but avoid assigning ministerial portfolios or naming potential ministers, the source said. No further details of the two formulas were available.

Hariri’s optimistic tone after his “positive” talks with Aoun suggested that a breakthrough was imminent regarding the problems of Christian and Druze representation, the two major hurdles blocking the formation of a new government, the source said.

The source added that Aoun and Hariri have agreed on a solution to the problem of Druze representation and that the prime minister-designate would discuss this solution with former MP Walid Joumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party. No details emerged of the proposed solution.

Joumblatt has long insisted on naming the three ministers reserved for the Druze sect in a 30-member Cabinet. But caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, and other FPM lawmakers have supported a demand by MP Talal Arslan, Joumblatt’s Druze rival and ally of the FPM, to be named a minister in the new government.

Likewise, Hariri will meet with Lebanese Forces officials to discuss the proposed solution to the Christian representation that is currently being fiercely contested between the LF and the FPM.

LF ministers and lawmakers have accused Bassil of hindering the government’s formation by seeking to prevent the LF from obtaining a Cabinet share commensurate with its parliamentary size after its boosted its representation from eight to 15 MPs in the May 6 elections.

Aoun and Hariri also agreed that the president would name a Sunni minister to be part of his Cabinet share, whereby the prime minister-designate will name a Maronite minister to be part of the Future Movement’s share, the source said.Whether the Aoun-Hariri agreement on the proposed Cabinet formulas would eventually lead to breaking the government impasse hinged largely on the response of the blocs’ leaders.

Hariri is expected to visit Baabda Palace again this week after holding consultations with blocs’ leaders on the proposed formulas, the source said. He added that if Hariri got favorable responses to the proposed Cabinet formulas, a decree announcing the formation of the new government might be issued at the weekend or at the beginning of next week at the utmost.

If Hariri meets Aoun Friday or Saturday, carrying with him the parties’ endorsement of the proposed Cabinet formulas, the new government could see daylight before the end of the month coinciding with Army Day celebrations on Aug. 1, the source added.

Speaking to reporters after meeting Aoun, Hariri said he was more optimistic than before about the government formation, adding that hurdles were being overcome. He said he had agreed with Aoun to accelerate the government formation with more frequent meetings between them.

“There are some obstacles in the government formation process that are being resolved. We agreed to reach a quick solution and I will visit Baabda Palace constantly in order to find solutions as soon as possible,” Hariri said, adding: “I am optimistic as usual. But today I am more optimistic in the hope that media outlets will not exercise a negative role. I hope the prevailing positive atmosphere will be maintained.”

Without elaborating, Hariri, who was designated to form a national unity government May 24, said the obstacles facing the government formation were “minor.” He called on political rivals to stop the exchange of rhetoric through media outlets which, he said, leads to complicating the situation.

Hariri refused to disclose details of his discussions with Aoun concerning the distribution of Cabinet shares among the rival parties.

“This issue is between me and the president. The Constitution is clear in this issue. I am the prime minister-designate who forms the government in cooperation with the president,” he said.

Hariri renewed his call on rival factions to make “sacrifices” to help facilitate the government formation. “The president and I are making great efforts to speed up the government formation. The political parties have also a responsibility in this regard and everyone must make sacrifices,” he said.

Despite reported tensions with the president in past weeks over the delay in the government formation, Hariri strongly denied rumors of any dispute with Aoun over the Cabinet issue. “Any talk about a dispute between me and the president is nonexistent, either in my dictionary or the president’s. We are working and cooperating together for the country’s interest and will continue on this road,” he said.

The prime minister-designate emphatically denied that the government formation process was being influenced by interference of external powers.

“There is no interference by Saudi Arabia or Iran. This [Cabinet formation] is purely an internal issue. This government comes today following parliamentary elections that were held after nine years and it might stay in office for four years. It is acceptable that its formation will take some time.”

Earlier in the day, speaking to visitors at Baabda Palace, Aoun expressed hope that a new government would be formed soon.

The formation of the government will help start the implementation of “necessary solutions on all levels, especially on the economic level, which will be given priority by the new government, along with combating corruption and [finding a solution for] the displaced Syrians in Lebanon,” Aoun said, according to a statement released by his media office.

Ahead of the Aoun-Hariri meeting, Speaker Nabih Berri called for the quick formation of the government. He spoke during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence, which was notably attended by some MPs from the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc after a long period of absence.

Berri again underlined the need to accelerate the government formation in view of the importance of its presence amid the difficult socio-economic conditions in the country, according to a statement released by the speaker’s media office.

Berri said a new government would also enable Lebanon to fulfill its international obligations, namely those related to the CEDRE conference held in Paris in April.

“The social and services-related crises that the Lebanese are facing resulted from several reasons, most notably the failure to implement laws because implementing them constitutes the main door to combating corruption,” the speaker was quoted as saying by a number of MPs.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 26, 2018, on page 1.

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