Lebanon News

Berri deals blow to Diab’s govt formation hopes

Berri heads a meeting in Beirut, Jan. 8, 2020. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament, HO)

BEIRUT: Government formation suffered a serious setback Wednesday after Speaker Nabih Berri called for an all-inclusive Cabinet that included even those who did not nominate premier-designate Hassan Diab. This comes after a “positive” Tuesday night meeting between President Michel Aoun and Diab. “There were just a couple of names left to be determined after this meeting and [Diab] was supposed to present the president with these names today,” a senior political source told The Daily Star.

But Berri’s call Wednesday for a “comprehensive” national unity government to serve the country’s interests dealt a blow to the progress that had been made to form an 18-member Cabinet of independent experts, as per Diab’s request.

The speaker warned against what he called “wasting time” by bickering over the type of the future Cabinet.

“What is mostly required is a government that reassures citizens and dispels their concerns,” Berri was quoted as saying during a weekly bloc meeting with MPs.

Fulfilling Berri’s wish will be hard as major political parties - the Future Movement, Lebanese Forces, and Progressive Socialist Party - have told Diab they would not take part in the government. Their absence is bound to label Diab’s Cabinet as “one-sided” or “confrontational” as it will comprise only representatives of the FPM, the Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies.

Asked whether Berri’s comments return progress on government formation to square one, the Baabda source said no.

“There was an agreement for an 18-member Cabinet, but if there is a demand to include more sides, including those parties that said they didn’t want to participate, then this can be increased to 24,” the source said. “But Diab is adamant on an 18-member government made up of independent experts.”

One of the final obstacles was over who would assume the posts of foreign as well as interior minister. Free Patriotic Movement and outgoing Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil had placed a veto on former Minister Damianos Kattar, who was proposed by Diab to be named as foreign minister. After Bassil’s veto a proposal to name Kattar economy minister was also foiled after Aoun and Diab agreed Tuesday night not to name any former minister in the upcoming government.

Sources close to Diab told LBCI Diab did not agree on this with Aoun “especially on the issue of Kattar.”

But a Baabda Palace source said, if the comments attributed to these sources were true, that “this needs to be clarified because the two did discuss the issue on Tuesday.”

Hezbollah was also reportedlyagainst the naming Kattar as foreign minister due to previous comments he made allegedly targeting the Shiite sect.

Another issue for Diab continues to be his lack of support from Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s highest Sunni authority. It has not publicly backed or met with Diab, making it difficult for potential Sunni candidates to accept nomination to become a minister.

The new delay, which arose Wednesday, is a serious blow to a country that is suffering from a decrepit economy and financial situation that continues to spiral toward the abyss.

Unofficial exchange rates hit the LL2,300 threshold Wednesday. Despite this, the Central Bank and commercial banks still maintain the price of the dollar around LL1,507.

Yet they refuse to disburse large amounts of dollar banknotes to their customers under the pretext that there is an acute shortage of these bills.

With the worsening situation and developments in the country and the region, a senior U.N. official tweeted that it was “increasingly irresponsible to keep Lebanon without an effective and credible government.” U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis urged Lebanese leaders to “move without any further delay.”

Kubis and the U.N.’s Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gilles Michaud Wednesday, met with Aoun, who said that work was underway to speed up the formation of the government and “fortify the political situation,” according to a statement released by his office.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 09, 2020, on page 2.

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