BEIRUT: Despite a tough speech in which he accused President Michel Aoun of blocking the formation of a new government with his demand for veto power, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has left the door open to a possible solution to the monthslong Cabinet crisis, a Future Movement MP said Monday.
Future MP Mohammad Hajjar said notwithstanding the spiraling tensions that have marked their relationship since Hariri was designated on Oct. 22 to form a new government, the premier-designate did not want to let the shaky relationship with Aoun to reach the point of no return.
“In his speech, Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not seek a break in relationship [with Aoun]. He has left the door open to the possibility of a solution to the Cabinet crisis. The solution lies in the formation of a government and Prime Minister Hariri is determined to form a government because he wants to rescue the country,” Hajjar told The Daily Star.
Hajjar said Hariri, as he pointed out in his speech, was ready to discuss with Aoun names of suggested ministers and the distribution of key portfolios in his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists he presented to the president on Dec. 9 which was rejected by Aoun.
“The solution to the crisis is for the president to get convinced that there will be no blocking third [veto power] --and that this is out of the question -- and to sign the government formation decrees. Otherwise, there will be no solution and he [Aoun] will be pushing the country toward ruins,” the Future MP said.
With insistence by Aoun and his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, on acquiring veto power, one-third of the 18 ministers plus one, or seven ministers, in the next government, Hajjar said, “this means that this team is preventing the formation of the government, preventing reforms, obstructing the rebuilding of Beirut after the Beirut Port explosion and increasing the sufferings of the Lebanese.”
In a televised speech Sunday addressing the Lebanese on 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, Hariri said Aoun had rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists to enact 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.
Besides reflecting wide differences between the two leaders over the shape and size of the new Cabinet and distribution of portfolios, Hariri’s defiant speech heightened political tensions in the crises-ridden country and dashed hopes for the quick formation of a government desperately awaited by the Lebanese and the international community to carry out a string of economic and administrative reforms. Implementation of the long-overdue reforms is deemed essential to unlocking billions of dollars in promised foreign aid to the cash-strapped country that is teetering on the verge of a total economic collapse.
Hajjar said there are “many things” related to the stalled Cabinet formation process, now in its sixth month, that Hariri might eventually expose. He did not say what these things are.
He added that when Hariri declared in his speech that Aoun had given him a list of names of potential ministers, he was responding to the president who said earlier he did not give Hariri any list and instead accused the premier-designate of lying as Aoun was shown in a leaked video last month.
Asked whether Hariri’s speech would either lead to a breakthrough in the Cabinet stalemate or further complicate it, a source at Baabda Palace said that Aoun was waiting for the premier-designate to come forward with a new Cabinet lineup after he had rejected the previous one.
“President Aoun has sent back the paper [Cabinet list] proposed by Prime Minister Hariri yesterday [Sunday], which means he did not approve it. Therefore, Prime Minister Hariri is required to come up with a new [Cabinet] formula that takes into account the presidential observations, the unity of criteria and the [National] Pact requirements and it must not contain new norms,” the source told The Daily Star Monday.
Responding to Hariri’s speech, a statement issued by the presidency’s media office Sunday night accused the premier-designate of seeking to impose unconstitutional norms in the Cabinet formation process.
“Again Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri exploited the anniversary of the martyrdom of his father Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to deliver a speech in which he dealt with the circumstances of forming a new government by containing it many misconceptions and untrue remarks to which we will not respond in detail because it is difficult to sum up 14 sessions in a statement,” the statement said.
“But it is sufficient to point out that what the prime minister-designate has acknowledged in his speech is enough to ascertain that he is trying through the formation of the government to impose new norms that run contrary to the rules, the Constitution and the [National] Pact,” it added.
Throughout his 25-minute speech, Hariri warned that without the formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan experts to implement reforms outlined in the French initiative there would be no solution to Lebanon’s deteriorating economic, financial and health problems and the country would continue its slide toward economic collapse.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.
Meanwhile, Russia underlined the need for the swift formation of a new government in Lebanon. This came during a telephone conversation between Hariri and the Russian presidential special envoy to the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry Monday.
They discussed the social and political crisis that Lebanon is facing, and stressed the need to form rapidly a mission-driven government headed by Saad Hariri, who won the majority of votes in Parliament, and was designated by President Michel Aoun, the statement said. It added that the two sides also discussed Russian assistance to Lebanon in combating the coronavirus, including sending a batch of vaccines to Beirut.
Bogdanov also telephoned Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt during which the two stressed the quick formation of a government in Lebanon
The two underlined the “importance of Russia acting to help in this respect [Cabinet formation] by contacting the influential parties order to overcome artificial obstacles that are hindering the birth of the government,” said a statement issued by the PSP’s media office.
In an interview with Future TV Sunday, Joumblatt lashed out at Aoun, called for a new political ruling system and praised Hariri’s proposed Cabinet lineup which denied veto power to any party.
“Hariri has proposed a [Cabinet] formula that suits everyone and rejected the blocking third [veto power]. This blocking third has disrupted the country for 20 years,” Joumblatt said.
“There should be a new political formula as we cannot continue with the old political formula. We are today faced with a hopeless regime and a destructive ruler. We have never seen such a regime even during the civil wars and several military rounds [between rival militias] and not even under the Israeli occupation,” he added.