Lebanon News

Berri-Bassil feud could spill over into new government

Political life in Lebanon today is against the backdrop of the upcoming parliamentary elections, with candidates looking to convince political parties and voters of their previous accomplishments and future potential. While the new proportional law was expected to give civil society and independents a fighting chance, sources familiar with the electoral preparations have voiced their skepticism that these new faces would have a real impact in these elections.

They said that, on the contrary, elections would silence the voice of the opposition against the ruling class (with the exception of a few candidates) and the results would lend legitimacy to those in power. The sources added that this dominance in the elections would give the current political class a popular mandate to continue with the projects and plans they deem necessary to strengthen their stances.

In this context, the sources said the current Memorandum of Understanding between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement was in danger. The MOU is supported by Speaker Nabih Berri, who has recently been in sharp conflict with FPM head Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. If this conflict cannot be resolved, the formation of a new government after the May 6 elections will likely drag on, with each side blocking the other’s bids for ministerial appointments and portfolios.

Add to that Bassil’s recent comments that he did not have an ideological conflict with Israel, which though later clarified, sparked outrage in Lebanon.

Parliamentary sources from Hezbollah said that the agreement with the FPM is unchanged and is linked to the strong relationship between Aoun and Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. However, the source did not rule out a crisis in forming a government in view of the rift between Berri and Bassil. That being said, forming a government in Lebanon has always come with uncertainties, but overcoming this obstacle is not impossible.

However, senior FPM political sources said they have encountered many difficulties in dealing with Berri, especially with regards to reforms within the state and bills proposed by the FPM’s Change and Reform bloc in Parliament, which was headed by President Michel Aoun. The FPM source noted that his side did not succeed in reaching a common ground with the Amal Movement leader, while Hezbollah remained absent from serious efforts to resolve differences between the two sides.

The sources said the FPM will not diverge from the MOU with Hezbollah, especially on major strategic issues, but will no longer tolerate Berri’s stances toward internal files dealing with the state and its administration, “which are too many to be counted.”

Separately, ministerial sources said the bickering in recent months between Baabda and Ain al-Tineh with respect to the infamous “officers’ decree” to promote what is known as the “Term of General Aoun’s officers” could have implications on the formation of the next government.

Although the dispute over the decree has ostensibly been resolved, it could still impact the formation of the next government, particularly in terms of the distribution of ministerial portfolios. The next government will be considered Aoun’s first government of his term.

The sources said all these developments would have an impact on Lebanon’s political scene. However, they noted that developments in the region and the role of Hezbollah – in Syria in particular and the region in general – as well as the lack of clear policy from the U.S. administration, will be key factors in the internal stability of Lebanon.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2018, on page 2.

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