BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designated Mustapha Adib Thursday resumed consultations with the two main Shiite groups, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, in a bid to expedite the formation of a new government by overcoming a major hurdle over who controls the Finance Ministry.
However, despite former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s initiative that called on Adib to assign the Finance Ministry to an “independent” Shiite candidate in a move designed to appease the two Shiite parties, the premier-designate is poised to face a major problem relating to Christian representation in his attempts to form a small Cabinet of independent specialists, a political source familiar with the matter told The Daily Star Thursday.
“After settling the dispute over the Finance Ministry, the prime minister-designate needs to resolve the problem of Christian representation in the new Cabinet, as well as the president’s role in selecting Christian ministers,” the source said.
The source noted that the formation of previous governments had been delayed for months over Christian representation as the two rival Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, engaged in a bitter struggle over distribution of key ministerial portfolios allotted to the Christian sect.
The FPM, the LF, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party have declared that they would not participate in the new government.
In what appeared to be a response to Hariri’s initiative and as a reminder of the president’s role in the Cabinet formation, the presidency’s media office issued a statement Wednesday highlighting President Michel Aoun’s role in the government formation under the Constitution.
The statement said that Articles 53 and 64 in the Constitution stated that “the president is directly involved in the government formation and in issuing the formation decree in agreement with the prime minister-designate.”
Former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a top political adviser to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and Hussein Khalil, a key political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, met with Adib Thursday in an attempt to push the Cabinet formation process forward.
No statement was issued after the meeting, but NBN channel, mouthpiece of the Amal Movement, described Adib’s meeting with the Amal and Hezbollah representatives as “positive.” It said the three reviewed names of candidates presented by the two Shiite representatives to Adib for the Finance Ministry, adding that more talks would be held between the two sides.
Adib also spoke by telephone twice with Aoun Wednesday and Thursday to brief him on the outcome of his consultations with political factions aimed at eliminating obstacles hindering the formation of a new government to be tasked with implementing urgent reforms needed to unlock promised international aid to pull the crises-hit country out of its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.
The source said Adib, who was designated with a large parliamentary majority on Aug. 31 to form a new government, might meet with Aoun Friday to present him with his first draft Cabinet lineup.
“If Adib’s meeting with the representatives of the two Shiite groups ends on a positive note, this will encourage the premier-designate to present a Cabinet lineup to the president Friday,” the source added.
Local media said Aoun, who has declared his support for a French initiative to rescue Lebanon from a series of multiple crises presented by French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Beirut Sept. 1, “would not accept to sign the Cabinet formation decree unless he approved the names of its members, at least the Christian ones.”
Ali Hasan Khalil said the Amal Movement’s parliamentary bloc headed by Berri was committed to the speedy formation of a new Cabinet.
“There is a positive atmosphere regarding the formation of the government,” Khalil, heading a delegation from the parliamentary Liberation and Development bloc, told reporters after a meeting with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian at Dar al-Fatwa. “It is in everyone’s interest to be optimistic.”
Khalil said the bloc was committed to supporting the French initiative.
“From here, we affirm as Development and Liberation bloc and the Amal Movement our commitment and support to ensure the success of the French initiative in all its aspects, starting with the quick formation of a government, holding a conference to support Lebanon, launching reforms by the executive authority and by Parliament,” Khalil said. “We will continue our efforts to facilitate the formation of a government as soon as possible.”
France has said it is ready to host an international conference in the second half of October to secure aid from donors, who demand implementation of long-overdue reforms before giving cash. Paris has drawn up a road map for a new government to tackle endemic corruption in the country and rebuild the crumbling economy.
In reply to a question, Khalil said there was no link whatsoever between the Shiite parties’ insistence on retaining the Finance Ministry and the U.S. decision earlier this month to slap sanctions on Khalil and former Minister Youssef Fenianos from the Marada Movement for aiding Hezbollah and engaging in corruption.
As the Cabinet deadlock persists, Lebanon is coming under mounting foreign pressure to form a government quickly.
France, which has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a government rapidly, backed Hariri’s proposal. The French Foreign Ministry welcomed the “courageous declaration” by Hariri. “This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a government of mission can now be established,” it said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Wednesday called on international partners to up the pressure on Lebanese political forces to form a government and again warned that there would be no financial aid without reforms.
“The political forces have still not managed to agree on forming a government.” Le Drian said in a speech to members of the Lebanon International Support Group. “Strong and convergent pressures on our part are therefore necessary to push Lebanese officials to respect their commitments.”
International support group attendees include the five permanent UN Security Council members, key regional powers and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
“What is at stake is the future of Lebanon,” Le Drian said during the virtual meeting held as part of the United Nations General Assembly. “Without reforms, there will be no international financial aid.”
Lebanon is wrestling with a severe economic and financial crisis that has been aggravated by the alarming surge in coronavirus cases and the Aug. 4 explosion that pulverized Beirut Port and left swaths of the capital in ruins. The blast, the biggest in Lebanon’s history and caused by the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrates, killed at least 192 people, injured thousands, left 300,000 people homeless and caused losses worth billions of dollars.
Source: The Daily Star