Hariri resisting pressures to declare his failure to form a cabinet

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is under pressure.
Sunday 05/08/2018
Partisan pressures. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (L) meets with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, last June.  (AFP)
Partisan pressures. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (L) meets with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, last June. (AFP)

BEIRUT - Official celebrations of the 73rd anniversary of the Lebanese Armed Forces on August 1 were overshadowed by a governmental crisis. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is under pressure. There are threats his appointment as prime minister be reversed, which would be unconstitutional. There are hints the new parliamentary year could start with a caretaker government.

Since May, many internal and external factors have delayed the formation of a new government and there are no indications that a consensus among the various Lebanese sides is likely to happen soon.

Lebanese political analysts said the main hurdle is the absence of an agreement about criteria for choosing the new cabinet. A camp led by Lebanese Hezbollah is pushing for a majority government that reflects the results of the May elections, which were won by Hezbollah and its allies.

The opposite camp, led by Hariri, is insisting on a government of national unity, given that the nature of the political regime in Lebanon is incompatible with the one-sided domination by any faction.

Experts said Syria-related issues were adding pressure. Hezbollah and its ally the Free Patriotic Movement want to see the new government work towards normalisation of relations between Lebanon and Syria, a development Hariri strongly rejects.

Hariri recently said: “You will never see me in Syria, neither now nor never and even if all equations were reversed. If Lebanon’s interests require that (normalising relations with Syria), then you need to find someone else besides me.”

Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s position is unclear on the issue. He has said he is for using the election results as the basis for forming a cabinet but wants a national unity government.

Speaking at a military academy graduation ceremony on Army Day, Aoun said: “The voice of the Lebanese people as expressed by the parliamentary elections must also be reflected in a new strong government. We are adamant in this context not to let any one side dominate the other and not to see the new government serve the interests of one side through monopolising decisions or disturbing the government’s work.”

He added: “We are determined to have this government represent all components of Lebanese society, without marginalising any single component or monopolising the representation of any one sect.”

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said he wants a new government in place as soon as possible, given the delicate situation in Lebanon. He called on all parties to show flexibility and responsibility to quickly bypass the crisis.

Berri brought up the possibility of having the parliament have legislative sessions within the context of a caretaker government, which led observers to conclude that he was pressuring Hariri.

Berri said: “Article 69 of the constitution is clear as to the legality of having legislative sessions in conditions like ours today and there were also precedents with previous caretaker governments, this in addition to the favourable opinions of experts and major (constitutional) scholars like Dr Antoine Rabat and others.”

He added that he preferred to wait to avoid “misinterpretations” of his actions even though the right to convene sessions was constitutionally guaranteed.

Sources close to the Future Movement describe Aoun’s and Berri’s declarations as added pressure to force Hariri to give up the prime minister’s post, which Hariri will not do.

The sources said there were two reasons Hariri would not take such a step because giving up the position would end Hariri’s personal credibility and popularity and would jeopardise his political future and such a move would be a blow to the Sunni community in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has been clamouring to have the new Lebanese parliament start its legislative work. Nawaf al-Moussawi, from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, declared it was unfair to delay legislative work because that way “the head of the government becomes the head of all branches.” Therefore, “the parliament must get back to work, and the question of forming a government must be treated independently,” he said.

Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, on July 31 met with Berri to discuss resuming legislative sessions. The meeting was considered to be coordinated pressure from Damascus and Hezbollah to force Hariri into giving in to their demands or step down as prime minister.

To counter those moves, former Prime Minister Najib Miqati, a member of parliament, said on August 1 that “nobody can throw warnings at Prime Minister Hariri. He was chosen by a clear majority and he wishes to form a government capable of dealing with the current challenges. It is only natural that this government should be representative of all factions and political institutions.”

Miqati said: “Speaker Nabih Berri is wise enough not to bring up the subject of having legislative sessions at the present moment.” He warned that “parliament sessions in the presence of a strong legislative branch and the absence of an executive branch due to resignation means that the balance of power has been shattered and Speaker Berri is keen on avoiding any break in the balance of power in Lebanon.”