Lebanon News

Nasrallah’s proposal for expanded Cabinet fails to break gridlock

Qatari Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani receives Hariri in Doha, Feb. 17, 2021. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s proposal for expanding the envisaged 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to 20 or 22 ministers as a possible solution to the monthslong government formation crisis did not seem Wednesday to be making any headway.

There was no immediate comment from President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who are directly concerned with the stalled Cabinet formation process, on Nasrallah’s proposal, fueling skepticism that the pitch would help narrow differences between the two leaders over the shape and size of the next government and the distribution of key portfolios, namely the Interior and Justice ministries.

In a tough speech Sunday, Hariri appeared adamant on the draft Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists he had presented to Aoun on Dec. 9, 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 has also rejected Aoun’s reported call for a 20-member Cabinet to add two ministerial seats, one for the Druze sect and the other for the Melkite Greek Catholic sect.

Future officials contacted by The Daily Star declined to comment on Nasrallah’s proposal.

Asked on whether Nasrallah’s proposal might break the Cabinet formation deadlock, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star: “Sayyed Nasrallah has made a proposal for a compromise solution [to the Cabinet crisis] that does not infuriate anyone. But the reaction [to the proposal] has not been known.”

In a televised speech Tuesday night commemorating the party’s annual anniversary of slain Hezbollah commanders, Nasrallah, a key ally of Aoun, supported Hariri on denying veto power to any party in the government, while also backing the president’s call for a 20-member Cabinet to include a Druze and a Melkite Greek Catholic.

“Everyone wants the formation of the government. The is no one who does not want this ... There are internal obstacles,” he said.

Referring to Hariri’s insistence on refusing to grant veto power to any party, Nasrallah said: “We understand the concern and even refusal of the prime minister-designate to grant a blocking third [veto power] to a single party. But we don’t understand his insistence on forming a Cabinet of 18 ministers, while if it is [a Cabinet] of 20 or 22 ministers, it will reassure everyone.”

He said he hoped the proposed 18-member Cabinet would be reconsidered, adding that an expanded Cabinet might serve as a gateway or solution to the crisis, now in its sixth month.

Nasrallah cited in his speech a meeting held Tuesday at the residence of MP Talal Arslan, in Khaldeh, south of Beirut, attended by Druze religious figures and politicians, opposed to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt. A statement issued after the meeting called for a better Druze representation, in addition to the PSP’s representation with one minister in the proposed 18-member Cabinet. The statement condemned what it termed the “infringement on the rights of the Druze through their unfair representation in the government.”

Arslan, Joumblatt’s Druze rival and an ally of Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by MP Gebran Bassil, is seeking for his party, the Lebanese Democratic Party, to be represented in the government.

Declining to comment on Nasrallah’s proposal, Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar accused Aoun of backing off on an agreement with Hariri on the formation of an 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to enact reforms contained in the French initiative designed to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War.

“Efforts should be geared toward the formation of a government as soon as possible because the country’s economic, financial and monetary situation is unbearable,” Hajjar told The Daily Star. “With regard to the 18-member Cabinet proposal, an agreement was reached between President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri on this. But there was a retreat [by Aoun] from this agreement to achieve a clear goal: a blocking third [veto power].”

He stressed that a government in which a party has veto power would not be productive because its decisions would be influenced by the party that has veto power.

“A mission government stipulated by the French initiative is required to carry out reforms and take a host of essential steps in order to put the country on a path to a solution to the crisis,” Hajjar said.

In his speech Sunday, Hariri bluntly accused Aoun of blocking the government formation with his demand for veto power. He also denied accusations by Aoun and the FPM that his proposed Cabinet lineup he presented to the president was intended to infringe on the president’s constitutional powers and on the rights of Christians.

Hariri said Aoun had rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists to implement essential reforms 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.

The FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc kept up its diatribe against Hariri, accusing him of seeking to marginalize the president’s role in the Cabinet formation process.

“The bloc calls on Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to return to the spirit of the [National] Pact and the text of the Constitution in the government formation process which the Lebanese people need in the most difficult stage through which Lebanon is passing at the economic, financial and health levels,” said a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly online meeting chaired by Bassil Tuesday.

The bloc said the stances contained in Hariri’s speech dealt “a setback to the National Pact and the balanced political partnership.”

Calling for the quick formation of a reform-minded and balanced government made up of “capable specialists,” the bloc asked: “Is the time now to marginalize the president constitutionally in the process of setting up the executive branch and does this serve Lebanon’s unity and the Lebanese who are yearning for a government to resolve the accumulated crises?”

Meanwhile, Hariri visited Doha Wednesday and met with Qatari’s Deputy premier and Foreign Minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. The two held talks at a dinner hosted by the Qatari minister dealing with the general conditions in Lebanon and the region, and bilateral relations between the two countries, a statement released by Hariri’s media office said.

Media reports said Hariri was expected to also hold talks with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

During a visit to Beirut last week, the Qatari minister told Lebanese leaders they needed to form a new government before they could get aid to pull the country from its crippling economic and financial crisis.

Hariri’s visit to Qatar is part of a tour that has already taken him to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France aimed at restoring Lebanon’s ties with Arab and friendly countries.

 

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