Lebanon News

Hariri says Aoun’s veto power demand blocking Cabinet formation

Hariri delivering his televised speech from his house in Beirut center. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra HO)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Sunday bluntly accused President Michel Aoun of blocking the formation of a new government by insisting on veto power, marking the latest escalation between the two leaders and shattering hopes for an early solution to the monthslong deadlock.

Hariri also strongly refuted accusations by Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, that his proposed Cabinet lineup he presented to the president on Dec. 9 amounted to infringing on the president’s constitutional powers in the Cabinet formation process and on the rights of Christians.

The premier-designate said Aoun had rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists to implement essential reforms in line with the French initiative to rescue Lebanon from multiple crises, because he wanted a share of six ministers, plus an Armenian Tashnag minister, or seven ministers, meaning a blocking third, or veto power. Hariri has vowed not to grant veto power to any party in the new government.

Hariri’s defiant speech is bound to ramp up political tensions in a country reeling from multiple crises and deepen a crisis of confidence between the two leaders whose ties have come under mounting strain even before Hariri was designated on Oct. 22 to form a new government to deliver reforms stipulated in the French initiative to rescue Lebanon from its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975- 90 Civil War.

Throughout his 25-minute speech, Hariri warned that without the formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan experts to enact reforms outlined in the French initiative there would be no solution to Lebanon’s deteriorating economic, financial and health problems and the debt-ridden country would continue its slide toward economic collapse.

“The solution exists, is known and ready. In all my Arab and international meetings, and in all my contacts that I am carrying, I sensed readiness and even enthusiasm to help Lebanon to stop the collapse, to rebuild Beirut [after last year’s massive Beirut Port explosion], and to give hope to the Lebanese.

So that they know what the solution is for the Lebanese pound exchange rate, for their money in the banks, their food, medication, school fees and their future and the future of their children,” Hariri said, addressing the Lebanese in a televised speech marking the 16th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed along with 21 others in a massive suicide truck bombing on Feb. 14, 2005.

“All this is waiting for a button to be pushed, and the button is a government of nonpartisan specialists capable of achieving the necessary reforms detailed in the initiative of our friend the French President Emmanuel Macron. Otherwise, no one is ready to help and the collapse will continue until the big explosion, God forbid,” he added.

Hariri’s speech came two days after holding an ice-melting meeting with Aoun – after a break of nearly two months -- that failed to make any progress in the Cabinet formation stalemate or to even bring the two leaders closer to an agreement on the crisis.

On the contrary, the 20-minute meeting at Hariri’s request at Baabda Palace, clearly showed that the two leaders remained poles apart on the shape, the numbers of ministers and the distribution of key ministries despite mounting local and foreign calls for the rapid formation of the government.

Hariri said he had held 16 meetings with Aoun since his designation on Oct. 22 to form a new government. He added in their last meeting Friday, Aoun insisted on a share of 6 ministers in addition to an Armenian Tashnag minister, meaning a blocking third, or veto power.

“The initial response of his excellency the president, frankly, was not encouraging as he returned to the old song of 6 plus a Tashnag [minister], meaning the blocking third and this is impossible,” Hariri said, emphasizing his staunch refusal to grant veto power to any party. The Tashnag Party is allied with the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc headed by Bassil.

Aoun, who had engaged in a war of words with Hariri recently over responsibility for blocking the Cabinet formation, has repeatedly denied charges that he was demanding veto power in the next government.

Taking an indirect jab at Aoun and the FPM, who have been accused of blocking the Cabinet formation with their demand for veto power and representing political parties in the next government, Hariri said: “Those who are preventing the formation of the government, are also preventing the launching of reforms, delaying the cessation of collapse and reconstruction, prolonging the suffering of the Lebanese and the tragedies they are experiencing, preventing the change of the way of work and the mentality that caused all the crises, and in the end they are saying that their decision is to ruin the country.”

In his speech, Hariri appeared adamant on the draft Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists he had presented to Aoun, which was rejected by the president on the pretext that it did not take into account unified criteria in the distribution of portfolios or in the naming of Christian ministers.

Hariri was reported to have insisted on controlling the Interior and Justice ministries. Hariri said Sunday Aoun rejected his proposal to name a judge known for his competence and integrity as interior minister.

Harri said since his designation, he was subjected to “lies, slander and fabrications”, including accusations that he violated the president’s constitutional powers and the rights of Christians with the Cabinet lineup he submitted to Aoun.

Hariri said after 14 rounds of consultations and attempts to find solutions with the president, he went to Baabda Palace and submitted a proposal for a lineup of 18 specialized non-partisan ministers, who would be able to implement as an integrated team the reforms required to stop the collapse, rebuild Beirut and restore hope to the Lebanese. “Yes, in this proposal, there is no blocking third, meaning 7 ministers for any of the parties,” he said. But Aoun rejected the proposal.

Hariri said under political governments, reform attempts had been thwarted, since Paris II conference during the days of Rafik Hariri till CEDRE conference that took place three years ago. “Every Lebanese and non-Lebanese investor has two demands: The first is that reform should start before a single penny is invested in the country, and the second is to totally change the way of work and the mentality that brought us to this situation. This is the real meaning of the French initiative, of a government of specialists and of the road map for reform,” he said.

Hariri stressed that fighting corruption rampant in the public administration and largely blamed for the crippling economic crisis starts the “independence of the judiciary and not by practicing political pressure on some judges to open some political files and close others.”

Rejecting accusations that he was infringing on the president’s powers and on the rights of Christians, Hariri said: “The rights of the Christians are simply the rights of the Lebanese. Their rights, is to stop the collapse, rebuild Beirut, and stop the disaster that is degrading Christians and Muslims and leading them to poverty and emigration.”

Despite pressure and accusations against him, Hariri vowed not to step down.

“And no one will make me lose hope in my country and the ability of my country’s people to stop the collapse and return to the path of recovery hopefully.

And as we wait for a solution, as you have seen, I am visiting Arab countries, countries in the region and the world, to rally support for Lebanon, to restore relations, especially with the Arab countries, so that the solution is launched quickly, when the government is formed, and the government will be formed,” he said.

 

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