Lebanon News

Diab faces tough task in forming Cabinet

New Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab speaks to journalists at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Dec. 19, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Hassan Diab garnered the most votes out of any candidate during the parliamentary consultations Thursday, but the real test will be whether his government - if formed - can last. He received 69 votes, but a meager six of these were from Sunni MPs.

With the premiership being the highest Sunni post in the country, Diab lacks the support of the largest Sunni party. Additionally, he doesn’t have the support of the second-largest Christian party or the country’s largest Druze party.

Saad Hariri, who stepped down as prime minister days after the nationwide anti-government protests broke out, said Thursday that he would not participate in the next government.

The Lebanese Forces said they wouldn’t participate. Progressive Socialist Party Walid Joumblatt told The Daily Star that his party would “of course not” participate in Diab’s government. What looks like another split down the middle between March 8 and March 14 movements is different this time around.

Protesters that have been in the streets since Oct. 17 are on the side that includes parties of the now-defunct March 14 against Diab.

The Lebanese Forces will also not participate. And according to Walid Joumblatt, the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, will “of course not” participate in Diab’s government.

Diab is no stranger to Lebanese politics. He was appointed as the education minister in Najib Mikati’s government from 2011-14, after Hezbollah facilitated the collapse of then-PM Saad Hariri’s government.

Thursday, Diab was quick to play down any ties to political parties and vowed that he was “independent.”

A government headed by Diab has already been labeled as being pro-Hezbollah, something analysts believe could trigger more tension and instability.

Hezbollah and the Amal Movement proposed Diab’s name at the last minute Wednesday, hours before the parliamentary consultations took place.

Mohannad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center warned that now “sectarian tensions are more likely given Hariri’s passive position.”

Despite Hariri losing a third of his parliamentary representation in the last elections, he is still the most popular Sunni figure in the country with the largest support base of the Muslim sect.

Hariri Monday asked Aoun to delay consultations despite him being the favorite to be nominated after learning that LF and Free Patriotic Movement were not going to name him for the premiership.

Hariri wanted to be a sectarian balance if he were to be named.

Apart from having little sectarian balance in his backing, the protesters appeared Thursday night to reject Diab’s designation.

Immediately following his speech in Baabda, residents of majority-Sunni areas took to the streets to voice their rejection.

For Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs, Diab’s lack of Sunni legitimacy makes his nomination “very shaky.”

“The only way he doesn’t need this Sunni legitimacy is if he goes all the way to form a technocratic government, which isn’t the case since he’s backed by the three parties who said they don’t want this type of government,” Nader explained to The Daily Star.

Another obstacle that Diab faces is the perception that his government will be pro-Hezbollah.

“This is a killer in these times because it cuts the road to any possible financial aid at a critical time, where financial aid is the only single resort we have to stop economic collapse,” Nader said.

“This will further isolate Lebanon, especially in light of the U.S.-Iran confrontation and how Washington, United Kingdom, GCC countries and now Germany are dealing with Hezbollah,” he said.

As was shown Thursday night, many protesters are against Diab’s nomination because he is backed by the parties they have been demonstrating against since Oct. 17.

“Most importantly, he cannot form a technocratic government, which is their [protesters] No. 1 demand,” Nader said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2019, on page 2.

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