Lebanon News

Hariri, Bassil shift focus to Cabinet formation

Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil meets Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Dec. 6, 2018. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra/File)

BEIRUT: Officials quickly refocused their attention on the government formation deadlock Monday, after Arab delegations departed from Beirut following the weekend’s economic summit.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil kick-started a new round of attempts to find a solution to the nearly 8-month-old stalemate.

“There are several ideas that are being discussed. Hariri agreed to more than one” of them, Bassil said after meeting with Hariri.

Striking a relatively upbeat tone, Bassil said there was a “real possibility of working to form a government if there are good intentions,” the statement from Hariri’s office said. “Hariri will carry out the necessary contacts over the next two days to follow up on the issue,” Bassil added.

While a source close to Hariri was unable to provide any further information on Hariri and Bassil’s meeting, local media reported that Bassil was again discussing a 32-member Cabinet instead of a 30-member one. MTV Lebanon reported that Hariri would agree to the proposal if one of the two extra ministers were a Sunni and not an Alawite.

Originally it was thought that the two extra ministers would be for a minority Muslim sect and minority Christian sect.

But MTV said Hezbollah and Amal would refuse this demand, because it would mean that the Cabinet would have seven Sunni and six Shiite ministers, as well as representation for only a Christian minority and not a Muslim minority.

Bassil’s camp was optimistic about how the meeting went.

“There is more of a political will now than there was before,” a source close to Bassil, who is also the caretaker foreign minister, told The Daily Star.

Asked whether Bassil had brought any new suggestions to the table Monday, the same source said no. But, the source added, “Hariri is reconsidering some of the original proposals that Bassil put forth, and we’re trying to build on this to go forward.”

“It is on Hariri now to move forward,” the source said.

At the forefront of the government impasse is a demand for representation by six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs. Hariri has vehemently rejected the demand, and President Michel Aoun originally said the group of lawmakers did not deserve an exclusive minister in the Cabinet because they were not a single bloc.

The president later gave in slightly, saying he would allow a compromise minister to be reallocated from his share in consultation with the group. However, he called for the minister to be part of his and the FPM’s Cabinet share.

The MPs refused, and Speaker Nabih Berri, who alongside Hezbollah supports their call for representation, said the minister should be exclusive to the group, which calls itself the Consultative Gathering.

Separately Monday, an MP from Berri’s bloc blasted Hariri for not moving to form a new government. “We as a Parliament designated [Hariri] to form a government, and now there is no movement or contact or serious effort to form a Cabinet,” MP Hani Qubeisi said from Nabatieh’s Arab Salim, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Hariri “sits indifferent to everything that is happening ... and is interested only in meeting [this person or that person], and there is not a single call looking to form the government, because he is taking into consideration his new ally [Bassil], who wants to get a blocking third in the government,” he added.

Tensions are expected to burst into the open between the FPM and Berri’s Amal Movement after the speaker boycotted the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, which was held in Beirut over the weekend.

Berri had called for the summit to be rescheduled in objection to Libya’s invitation. He and Amal oppose Lebanon having ties with Libya because of the disappearance of the group’s founder, Imam Musa Sadr, during an official visit to the country during Moammar Gadhafi’s rule.

Despite this, Berri Monday lauded Bassil’s remarks over the weekend regarding Sadr’s 1978 disappearance.

“His speech reflected that of a statesman, and hopefully he will continue with this spirit,” local daily Al Joumhouria quoted Berri saying, referring to a speech Bassil gave Sunday calling for Libya’s leadership to carry out all its duties to reveal Sadr’s fate.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 22, 2019, on page 1.

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