BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt in remarks published Monday dismissed calls for forming an opposition front against President Michel Aoun blamed by his opponents for the crippling economic and financial crisis that is hitting the Lebanese hard.
Joumblatt, who has emerged in recent months as an outspoken critic of Aoun’s mandate, also blamed the Free Patriotic Movement and its ally, Hezbollah, for the failure to form a new government of nonpartisan specialists to enact essential reforms in line with the French initiative designed to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, a harsh critic of Aoun’s presidency and the current caretaker Cabinet, has been calling for the formation of an opposition salvation front to push for holding early parliamentary elections as the only solution for the country that is facing multiple crises, including an unprecedented economic meltdown that is posing a serious threat to its stability and security.
Geagea, a long-standing presidential aspirant, Monday repeated his call for establishing an opposition front to press for early parliamentary elections to be followed by an early presidential vote before the end of Aoun’s six-year term in office due in October 2022. Geagea is seeking early parliamentary elections in hope of changing the parliamentary majority which is currently controlled by the FPM, Hezbollah and their allies.
“The idea of an opposition front was born from the current situation: The effective groups that oppose those in power are many and the situation of the country and the people is increasingly deteriorating every day,” Geagea said in an interview published Monday in the daily French newspaper L’Orient Le-Jour.
“We have discussed inside the party [LF] and on several occasions the idea of forming a unified front that has a margin of maneuver that allows it to make a breakthrough in the political scene. In outlining the delicate goal of this front, discussions focused mainly on early legislative elections and an early presidential election,” he said.
Geagea said the LF was keeping contacts with other parties to form an opposition front. “But we are encountering big obstacles,” he added, without elaborating.
Commenting on Geagea’s call, Joumblatt, during a dialogue with Lebanese expatriates that was published by the PSP’s electronic newspaper Al Anbaa Monday, said: “There is no opposition front. I am in the opposition and there are others who are dissatisfied with this regime, but there is no opposition front.”
He also ruled out the possibility of reviving the now-defunct March 14 coalition, a Western-backed bloc that vehemently opposed Syria’s policies and its grip over Lebanon for nearly three decades that ended in 2005.“No one must have the illusion that we can return to the so-called March 14 [alliance]. Those days were one thing and today is something else,” said Joumblatt, whose party was part of the March 14 coalition that was created in the wake of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a massive suicide truck bombing.
With no solution in sight to the Cabinet formation crisis, now in its sixth month, Joumblatt said Hezbollah and the FPM founded by Aoun and now headed by MP Gebran Bassil, were to blame for the deadlock.
“The French initiative or what remains of it has been foiled because the government which France has demanded has not been formed. The dominant forces today, Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, until now have not received the green light for the formation of a government,” the PSP leader said.
The French initiative, presented by French President Emmanuel Macron to Lebanon’s political leaders during his second visit to Beirut on Sept. 1, has remained stalled after rival Lebanese factions failed to agree on the swift formation of a “mission government” to implement a slew of economic and administrative reforms stipulated in the initiative.
Macron said after his first phone conversation with US President Joe Biden Sunday that France would coordinate with America on Iran’s nuclear program and the situation in Lebanon.
Joumblatt accused Iran, which wields great influence in Lebanon through the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah, of dominating the country. “There is guardianship from Iran’s Republic over Lebanon. A question to the Islamic Republic [of Iran]: Will this republic recognize the Lebanese entity?” he asked.
Joumblatt, who has called on Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to step down and let Aoun, the FPM and Hezbollah run the country, said: “I repeat to Sheikh Saad Hariri that even if I were one of the advocates of a compromise, these forces [Aoun, FPM, Hezbollah] are controlling everything and joining these forces is a loss. He is free.”
Lebanon has been left without a fully functioning government since then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet resigned on Aug. 10 in the aftermath of the deadly explosion that destroyed Beirut Port, although it has been serving in a caretaker capacity.
Joumblatt’s remarks come as attempts by mediators, including Diab, Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, have so far failed to arrange an ice-breaking meeting between Aoun and Hariri to agree on the swift formation of a salvation Cabinet to tackle the country’s crises.
Aoun and Hariri have not met for more than a month since differences emerged between the two over a draft Cabinet lineup made up of 18 nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms the premier-designate presented to the president on Dec. 9.
Hariri’s attempts since Oct. 22 to form a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan experts to implement reforms urgently needed to secure billions of dollars in promised foreign aid have hit snags over a dispute with Aoun regarding who gets to name the Christian ministers and who controls two key ministries: Interior and Justice, and demands by Bassil, for veto power and representing political parties in the government. In addition to refusing to grant veto power to any party in the next government, Hariri is reportedly also opposed to allotting the Interior and Justice ministries to Aoun and the FPM.