Bassil endorses Hezbollah’s proposal of founding conference
BEIRUT – The leader of Lebanon’s biggest Christian political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun ruled out on Sunday joining a new government led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, a new hurdle for efforts to pull the country out of political paralysis.
In a televised speech, Gebran Bassil said his movement would not join the cabinet as long as Hariri insisted on choosing all ministers.
“We don’t entrust Hariri alone with reform in Lebanon,” he said. “In short we don’t want to take part in this government.”
Bassil made a lengthy presentation on the problems facing Lebanon and said the country cannot be entrusted to Hariri.
He said Hariri did not appear to be serious about forming a government: “Every time he meets the president he takes a different line-up with him,” Bassil said. “Someone who does that is serious and wants to form a government? Or is wasting time?”
In the last and most important part of his long televised speech, he stressed that the only solution to salvage the situation in Lebanon is the establishment of a new political system.
The solution to Lebanon’s current problems is “holding a national dialogue that results in a common Lebanese vision for a new political system that guarantees stability in the country,” he said, noting that “jumping over the system’s structural problems and arguing that Hezbollah alone is the cause of the fall of the state means that there are those who do not want a solution. The problem runs deep.”
Bassil lamented that “there is no expertise nor standards nor rules in what is being proposed” by Hariri, Bassil claimed that the objective is to “downsize the government and cling to 14 or 18 seats in order to aggrieve Druze and Greek Catholics.”
“We won’t allow a return to the era of marginalisation and elimination,” he added.
Bassil also revealed that the FPM has agreed with Iran-backed Hezbollah group on “launching a bilateral dialogue to review our relation and the memorandum of understanding regarding key issues, including foreign relations and the building of the state, because things are not going well.”
Lebanese observers and politicians considered that the two key points in Bassil’s speech were his adoption of Hezbollah’s proposal to hold a national dialogue to establish a new political system, and his incitement of Christians, by accusing Hariri confiscating their right to choose their ministers.
Hezbollah had previously offered to hold a founding conference to reconfigure the current system that emerged following the Taif Agreement, reached in 1989 in the wake of a bloody civil war.
The Taif Agreement is based mainly on sectarian quotas, whereby the three presidencies are distributed among Shias, Sunnis and Maronite Christians. This quota system also includes sovereignty institutions such as defense, the army, and the security establishment.
Observers believe that Bassil’s endorsement of the idea of national dialogue is motivated by his concerns over changing international dynamics and the possibility of the new US administration concluding a deal with Iran within an integrated package that includes Lebanon.
“We are facing a year of changes on the international scene and in the region,” Bassil said.
“American policy will witness major changes with Joe Biden and we are concerned with these changes. This year is an election year in Iran, Syria and Israel, meaning there is time and an opportunity to rethink and rearrange our options. If this is a year of great changes, then what should we do during it? ”
Commenting on Basil’s statements, former Minister May Chidiac considered that Bassil wanted to confirm the solidity of the understanding his political party has with Hezbollah while calling for a founding conference in an indirect manner.
After Bassil’s speech, Hariri’s Future party said it did not want to be dragged into political bickering and that the government line-up was ready and waiting to shoulder its duties.
“It will be a government that will take up the necessary reforms according to the French initiative and not according to sectarian and racist ‘Bassil-like’ considerations,” a statement by the party said.
Politicians have been at loggerheads over the shape of a new administration since the last one quit in the aftermath of the August 4 Beirut port explosion, leaving Lebanon rudderless as it sinks deeper into economic crisis.
Veteran Sunni Muslim politician Hariri was named premier for a fourth time in October promising to form a cabinet of specialists to enact reforms necessary to unlock foreign aid.
Lebanon’s governing system requires officials to be chosen from across the religious spectrum, typically giving sectarian parties an effective veto over forming a cabinet.
Bassil was placed under sanctions in November by the United States over corruption allegations, which he denies, and ties with the Iran-backed Shia Muslim paramilitary group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful party.
Lebanon is grappling with a deep economic and financial crisis, its worst since the 1975-1990 civil war, that has hammered the currency, spread poverty and prompted a sovereign debt default.