Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and PM Saad Hariri (L) attend a meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Jan 4, 2017. (REUTERS)

December 25, 2020

Lebanese political sources have reported new obstacles to forming a government of specialised ministers headed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.

After a second visit to the Baabda palace to hold negotiations with President Michel Aoun to form a government, Hariri admitted there were obstacles.

Political sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blamed the stalemate on Iran’s desire, via its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, an ally of Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, to delay the formation of the Hariri government.

Aoun’s demand that his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, obtain the ministries of interior and justice drew concerns from Hariri about whether the president was serious in his efforts to expedite the formation of a new government or whether he was attempting to waste more time so as to accomplish Hezbollah’s wishes.

The sources suggested that Hezbollah was behind the rigid position of the president, who gave up the demand to the blocking third in government and started insisting on the ministries of interior and justice.

Aoun’s goal, according to these sources, is to control the security sectors in the country and have power over the judiciary.

A number of Lebanese politicians believe Iran prefers to wait until after January 20 to allow the formation of a new Lebanese government.

By doing so, Iran hopes to show the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden the extent of its influence in Lebanon and its control of the smallest details there.

— “Complications” —

Sources close to the Wasat House (Hariri’s residence) said that the information leaked from Baabda Palace triggered a negative atmosphere about the results of the meeting before it took place.

The initial positive signs, the sources said, came from Hariri at the request of Aoun, who asked him to announce that there had been progress. However, parties close to Aoun soon rushed to muddle the process by creating new complications.

On Wednesday, Hariri stressed the need to form the government after the New Year and indicated that there are “complications” surrounding the matter. This came during a news conference held after his meeting with Aoun.

“I hope there will be a government, but there are still obvious complications,” Hariri said, indicating that “there are political problems,” without going into detail.

He emphasised the ability of the government, if formed, to stop the collapse of Lebanon’s political and economic spheres, adding, “We need a government of specialists to stop this collapse.”

Hariri pointed out that “expediting the formation of a government is priority, and we need people from whom we can benefit for the interest of the country.”

He called on Lebanese officials to “be humble and think about the citizens and those affected by the Beirut port explosion,” stressing the need to “form a government after the New Year.”

Hariri’s statement on Wednesday contrasted with his optimistic assessment on Tuesday, when he said that the atmosphere was positive during his meeting with Aoun, that there was great openness and that the Wednesday meeting would lead to “a formula for forming a government before Christmas.”

The recent developments show there are still obstacles to the formation of a new government. Earlier this month, Hariri said he had presented Aoun with “a government lineup of 18 specialised ministers, without any party affiliation.”

However, Aoun recently announced he objected to Hariri’s naming of ministers, “especially Christians, without consulting with the presidency.”

Lebanon has not been able to form a rescue government since the Beirut port explosion on August 4 that prompted the current caretaker government headed by Hassan Diab to resign.

Aoun named Hariri to form the next government, following the resignation of his predecessor, Mustapha Adib, who was unable to form a new cabinet.

French pressure did not succeed in pushing Lebanese factions to form a government of specialists in order to facilitate Beirut’s access to foreign aid.

French President Emmanuel Macron gave the Lebanese officials more than one deadline to reach a consensus on the portfolios, but partisan calculations, especially from Hezbollah and its ally the Free Patriotic Movement headed by former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, kept bringing negotiations back to square one.

The Arab Weekly

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