BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Wednesday gave Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri the choice to either immediately form a new national rescue government to cope with the “dangerous situation” in the country, or step down to make way for another candidate if he is unable to do so.
Hariri responded by saying that he would meet with Aoun yet again to discuss names that he had submitted "weeks ago" for the cabinet, but that if Aoun was then unable to approve them he should then call for early presidential elections.
In a televised speech addressing the Lebanese on the Cabinet crisis, Aoun invited Hariri to come to Baabda Palace to agree with him on the formation of a new Cabinet at once without pretexts or delays. He outright rejected Hariri’s draft Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists to deliver reforms presented to the president on Dec. 9 on the grounds that it did not fulfill the minimum of national balance and the prerequisites of the National Pact on equal power sharing between Muslims and Christians.
“Today, driven by my oath, and after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has presented the headlines of a governmental draft that does not fulfill the minimum of national balance and adherence to the [National] Pact, which has dragged the country into the tunnel of stalling, I hereby invite him to Baabda Palace to form a Cabinet at once, in agreement with me, according to the constitutional mechanism and criteria adopted in the formation of governments, without any pretexts or delays,” Aoun said.
“Nevertheless, if he finds himself incapable of forming and heading a national rescue government that would stand up to the dangerous situation that the country and the people are going through, then he must clear the way for any person capable of formation,” he added.
Aoun said any possible decision by Hariri to step aside would be motivated by “his constitutional responsibility and his national and human conscience because such suffering shall have no mercy on those responsible for stalling, exclusion and the eternalization of “caretaking.”
“This is a determined and sincere call to the prime minister-designate to take the lead immediately and go for one of the two available options, whereas there is no use after today to remain silent and stay in strongholds, hoping to save Lebanon,” the president said. “All positions are vain and deflecting responsibilities onto each other is pointless if the country falls apart and people become prisoners of despair and frustration, indulging in inevitable anger.”
In a statement released by his media office Wednesday night, Hariri said he was surprised by the president’s invitation to him through a televised speech to form a new Cabinet at once, in agreement with him according to the constitutional mechanism and criteria adopted in the formation of governments.
Recalling that he has visited Aoun 16 times since his designation for the same goal set by the president to agree on a government of nonpartisan specialists capable of implementing reforms agreed upon and halting the collapse, Hariri said he was ready to visit the president immediately for the 17th time if his schedule permitted to discuss the Cabinet lineup that has been in his hands for several weeks
and immediately agree with him on the announcement of the Cabinet formation.
“But if his excellency the president found himself unable to sign the decrees for the formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists capable of implementing the required reforms to halt the collapse from which the country and the Lebanese are suffering, he will have to tell the Lebanese frankly about the real reason that pushes him to try to derail the will of Parliament which has chosen the premier-designate and prevents him for long months from clearing the way for salvation for the citizens, and to shorten their pains and suffering by clearing the way for early presidential election, which is the only constitutional means capable of canceling the results of his election by the MPs for the presidency five years ago, exactly as they have chosen me as a prime minister-designate to form a government five months ago,” Hariri said.
Aoun’s offer to Hariri came as Lebanon teetered on the verge of a total economic collapse as a result of the Lebanese pound’s dramatic and unchecked plunge against the US dollar. The crashing pound hit an all-time low record Tuesday, trading for over LL15,000 against the dollar on the black market.
Since he was designated on Oct. 22 to form a new government, Hariri and Aoun have refused to budge on their conflicting positions on the shape and size of a new government to deliver reforms stipulated in the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon from its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War. The two leaders remain at odds over the distribution of key ministerial seats, namely the Justice and Interior ministries, and the naming of Christian ministers.
Aoun said as the Lebanese suffered from the crippling economic crisis, including destitution, unemployment, migration, oppression and the shortage of vital supplies, the decline of subsidies, and the coronavirus pandemic, he chose to “keep quiet in order to make room for solutions at various levels and to avoid any incident entailed by the sharp polarizations and divisions in political stances, as well as the collapse of the economic and financial system due to decadeslong wrong policies.”
“Nevertheless, I have gone down the rough road of accountability, in a system where authoritarian and institutional corruption is deep-rooted, and all sorts of roadblocks were thrown before me; and you know well that I am not used to yielding and giving up, in defending your dignity and your decent free living,” he said.