Berri revives initiative to form Lebanon’s government
BEIRUT – Lebanese political circles told The Arab Weekly on Monday that this week would be decisive in terms of moves led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to remove hurdles that have been hindering the formation of a new Lebanese government headed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Berri’s moves are supported by several political parties in Lebanon, including Hezbollah and the Progressive Socialist Party. They also enjoy Western blessing, especially from the United States and France.
The Lebanese political sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that these moves constitute the last chance for the formation of a Lebanese government. They, however, expressed concerns over a detrimental role by Gibran Bassil, the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, who might intervene to thwart Berri’s initiative.
The sources said they were awaiting the meeting that will likely take place on Monday between Berri and Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Hariri has been at loggerheads for months with Aoun, an ally of the powerful Shia Muslim Hezbollah, over cabinet positions.
Experts argue the main stumbling block to the formation of a new government is still the issue of the “blocking third” of portfolios, with Hariri now wanting to know the affiliation of the two Christian ministers who will enter the government when the number of its members is raised to 24, as Berri suggested.
The same sources noted Hariri’s refusal to nominate new Christian ministers in the government for fear they will serve as a cover for the “blocking third” in the government that Aoun and his son-in-law, Bassil, could use to blackmail him.
Berri had recently succeeded in avoiding a political escalation between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement over Aoun’s letter to the Parliament, in which he tried to revoke Hariri’s mandate.
This success in avoiding a ratcheting up of tension encouraged Berri to revive an initiative to form a government without a “blocking third.” This time, however, the chances of success seem uncertain in view of the climate of disapproval that still dominates the presidency.
Lebanon is still reeling from a huge chemical explosion at the Beirut port last year that killed 200 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage, further weakening an economy already facing meltdown. Lebanon’s economic crisis has pushed much of the population into poverty and poses the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.