BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab Saturday appeared to be persistent on forming a new government of independent experts.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the consultations he held with parliamentary blocs and MPs, Diab said the new cabinet will be small and will consist of around 20 ministers.
“The prime minister is the one who forms the government," he said, adding that no one has placed any conditions on him.
Diab said he agrees with the demands of protesters who are asking for experts that are transparent to be in the next government.
He added that he will visit Dar al-Fatwa, and said it is actually not a part of protocol for him to do so.
Consultations for the formation of Lebanon's next government, headed by Diab had began earlier Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Parliament building in Nijmeh Square in Downtown Beirut.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was the first to meet with Diab. Berri later released a statement insisting that all groups and parliamentary blocs are represented in government, including protesters. He also stated that he and Diab had discussed the formation of the government and its plans to address issues such as corruption and Lebanon's economic situation.
Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri was next to meet with Diab. After their meeting, Hariri called on protesters – mostly his supporters – who scuffled with the Army and security forces Friday, to express their feelings in a peaceful manner.
Berri and Hariri also met on the sidelines of the consultations held at Parliament.
Former Prime Minister Tammam Salam said after his meeting with Diab that he had no personal demands and expressed his disapproval of Friday's events, adding that everyone has the right to protest, but that they should do so peacefully.
Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli stressed after his meeting the need for a cabinet "consisting of experts who are effective” and a small government that will implement reforms. He cited France’s demand for an effective cabinet and calls made by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale Friday during his visit to Beirut.
He added that Hariri doesn't necessarily have to take part in the new cabinet, however he has been positively cooperating in the process.
MP Anwar Khalil spoke on behalf of the Amal Movement’s Development and Liberation bloc, after their meeting with the PM-designate. He said that the bloc had called for the formation of a small rescue government that will be able to deal with the crises overtaking the country.
Khalil added that the bloc demanded that protesters and all parliamentary blocs be represented, including those who did not name anyone as a candidate for the premiership during binding consultations at the Baabda Palace Thursday.
When asked by reporters if the bloc demanded the finance ministry as part of its share of the cabinet, Khalil said, "We did not go into those details."
MP Samir Jisr, representing the Future bloc, announced that the bloc informed Diab that it will not participate in the government.
Jisr said the bloc called for the formation of a cabinet of experts, independent of all political parties in Lebanon.
The Future MP added that the new cabinet will be of “one color,” as the designation was, so the formation should not take long.
“We can’t talk about an independent government and say will be participating,” he told reporters.
Jisr also affirmed that the bloc is not hindering the process of government formation.
Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc said no one wants a confrontational or a “one color” government, adding that it called for a cabinet consisting of experts, not only with technocratic experience but also with a patriotic sense, who understand the demands of the Lebanese people.
Former prime minister Najib Mikati’s Independent Center bloc stressed the formation of a small government consisting of independent experts, and for the new cabinet to have a ministerial statement that includes reforms and a timetable for their implementation.
The Social Nationalist bloc demanded early parliamentary elections be held, with Lebanon as one electoral district. The bloc also said that the forming a government is a decision that politicians make.
Speaking on behalf of the Kataeb bloc, MP Samy Gemayel said that it believes that there is a group that wants to impose its will on the people, and that this path will inevitably lead to further crises.
“Let the people decide ... let there be early parliamentary elections” said Gemayel.
MP Nouhad Machnouk announced on Saturday that he will not participate in the non-binding consultations, saying that the mentality that led to the designation of Diab still ignores the political reality on the ground since nationwide protests began on Oct. 17.
Commenting on Mikati’s absence at the consultations, Machnouk said the former prime minister's failure to attend was due to prior travel plans.
The Consultative Gathering bloc of independent Sunni MPs also asked for an independent rescue government capable of gaining the people’s trust, adding that any cabinet resembling previous ones will not win the confidence of the bloc.
Speaking on behalf of the bloc, MP Jihad al Samad said the Future Movement’s problem is not with the Consultative Gathering bloc. “Hariri’s supporters should know it is Lebanese Forces’ fault that Hariri was not named prime minister last week,” said Samad.
MP George Adwan said on behalf of the Strong Republic bloc that it wants a government that consists of experts who are transparent and completely independent.
Adwan stressed to Diab that the government should be formed in a matter of hours, not weeks or months, as the country can no longer afford to wait.
He added that the bloc's decision on premiership designations were not influenced by any foreign power, but were reached independently.
Caretaker Foreign Minister and MP Gebran Bassil spoke on behalf of the Strong Lebanon bloc. He was unclear about how the bloc will participate in the new government and said what matters is not his party's representation in the government, but having non-political people in the cabinet.
Bassil stressed that the new government will not be not beholden to Hezbollah and that it is not against the Future Movement. Instead, he said, it should be a government for all Lebanese people, adding that protesters should also be represented.
The bloc of Armenian MPs urged Diab to quickly form a government, saying that it will participate in the formation of the cabinet and have a role in naming its ministers.
MP Talal Arslan said on behalf of the Guarantee of the Mountains bloc that it hopes the new government addresses the demands of the streets and implements the previously decided reform paper.
Independent MP Michel Moawad urged the formation of a rescue government consisting of independent experts that will save Lebanon from collapse.
National Coalition bloc representative MP Tony Frangieh urged a quick government formation, and said the bloc will wait to see the form of the government. "If there is participation then we will also participate," he said.
“Whoever is saying it is a one-color government should come and participate,” added Frangieh.
Independent MP Eddy Demerjian also met with Diab.
MP Paula Yacoubian said she was surprised to be informed by Diab that the new government will consist solely of independent ministers, will be a small cabinet of 18 members, and that Diab will be the one to name the ministers.
Different independent MPs stressed on having non-politicized and technocratic ministers in the upcoming government.
For instance, MP Osama Saad said Diab confirmed to him he will form a government of experts.MP Fouad Makhzoumi said his demand is for Diab to stop corruption. MP Chamel Roukoz said he hopes the new government is of one-color, which is the “color of experts.” MP Neemat Frem said he wants a group to take over the government that will bring trust and a plan that will get them the trust. MP Jamil al Sayyed wished for the new ministers to be independent.
Diab was tasked with the formation of the upcoming cabinet, after holding non-binding consultations with parliamentary blocs Saturday.
All entrances leading to the Parliament building were blocked Saturday morning and Internal Security Forces and the Army were heavily deployed in the area, according to local media reports.
Diab had promised Friday to form a government of independent specialists within six weeks to tackle Lebanon's dire economic situation.
He was designated prime minister by President Michel Aoun Thursday, after gaining the support of a parliamentary majority.