Hariri’s chances dim as Lebanon’s ruling trio reverts to Diab option

The three ruling parties, according to observers, have apparently wanted to squeeze Hariri in the corner and leave him with only two options: Either to submit completely to their conditions or step down.

Saturday 07/11/2020
Lebanese Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri, walks after being named Lebanon’s new prime minister at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 22, 2020. (REUTERS)
Lebanese Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri, walks after being named Lebanon’s new prime minister at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 22, 2020. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT – The consultations to form a new government in Lebanon risk hitting a stalemate, amid concerns whether a cabinet, led by former Prime Minister and leader of the Future Movement Saad al-Hariri, will ever see the light.

Hopes for a breakthrough seemed dim after figures close to Hezbollah, the Shia Amal Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement began talking about the possibility of keeping the government of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab in place.

With these developments, political experts in Lebanon are now voicing their fears that the leader of the Future Movement might have fallen into the trap of the ruling trio, arguing that his nomination to the position of Prime Minister has been accepted to buy time.

According to these experts, the ruling trio has been waiting for the results of the US elections, and a decision regarding Hariri’s success or failure to form a new cabinet will be taken depending on those results.

“The country is in need of a government, and this is of utmost importance in these circumstances. Until now, Hariri has been unable to form this government while the leaders are asking for their share in the new cabinet.  For years, Hariri was their partner in the collapse of the state,” said MP, Major General Jamil Al-Sayyed, on his Twitter account, adding that, “If Hariri’s failure persists,  we might see the idea of upholding Diab’s government floated again.”

In recent days, Diab’s government returned to the spotlight through the case of the central bank, Banque du Liban (BDL).

Political observers in the country examined the caretaker prime minister’s criticism on the bank, and his recent accusation that the BDL might have sought to conceal some files, including information about existing deposits.

These observers suggested that Diab’s criticism came at the behest of the ruling trio and the Syrian regime, whose president Bashar al-Assad, attacked on Thursday the BDL, accusing it of locking billions of dollars in Syrian deposits.

“It seems that after looting and destroying Syria, deporting most of its citizens, benefiting from the smuggling of goods subsidised by Lebanon, and being involved in Beirut’s port explosion that was caused by the nitrates he imported to use in the manufacturing of barrel bombs to target his people, Assad now intends to destroy the Lebanese banking system,” President of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt commented on Syrian president’s statements in a tweet.

A file picture of Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 10, 2020. (REUTERS)
A file picture of Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 10, 2020. (REUTERS)

He, then, asked, if the “the criminal investigation theory” was going “in this direction.”

Lebanese political figures have been warning about deliberate attempts to thwart the efforts of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, as the latter’s presence at the head of the next government does not fall within the context of the battle that was opened once again against the BDL, and its governor, Riad Salameh.

Jamil al-Sayed, who is close to the three-party ruling class and Damascus, said earlier in a tweet that “the governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, is stalling the investigation, hoping for President Saad Hariri’s return to the government.”

Diab’s government resigned last August amid widespread anger over a devastating explosion in the Beirut port, which led to dozens of deaths and the displacement of thousands of people.

On October 22, Lebanese President Michel Aoun named Hariri to form the new government after Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a technocrat, stepped down on September 26, because of his failure to form a government of technocrats, with Shia political groups insisting on naming sect’s ministers.

Before assuming the job, Hariri pledged to form a government of non-partisan specialists tasked with implementing reforms according to the French initiative. He also pledged to prepare for parliamentary elections, but all his pledges were quickly met by the ruling trio’s insistence on the previous approach based on quotas.

Observers say that the ruling trio has not shown any seriousness since the start of the consultations. They said each party was keen on raising the ceiling of its demands, especially the Free Patriotic Movement, whose president, Gebran Bassil, insisted on forming an expanded government of 22 ministers, with his party obtaining the blocking third and keeping the energy portfolio.

The three ruling parties, according to observers, have apparently wanted to paint Hariri into a corner and leave him with only two options: Either submit completely to their conditions or step down.

Their “favourable” scenario would be to float Diab’s government, which they see as the best fit for their interests in the next phase, in light of indications predicting the rise of a new US administration led by Democrats.

Washington’s blacklisting of Bassil could increase his reliance on the two Shia main parties, Iran-backed Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. The blacklisting could also contribute to Bassil’s intransigence when it comes to thwarting Hariri’s mission.

On Friday, the head of the Lebanese Forces Party Samir Geagea expressed his hope that “Hariri will continue to insist on a non-partisan and non-sectarian ‘mission government’.”

Geagea, however, did not hide his fears “that the upcoming government could be a quota government,” especially since the formation process started with giving a promise to the Amal Movement and Hezbollah that they will obtain the Ministry of Finance.

The head of the Lebanese Forces Party said that such an approach could mean that there would be other promises made to other parties concerning other portfolios.

Geagea, whose bloc refused to endorse Hariri’s naming, stressed that “no party has the right to cling to any portfolio because the country has reached this critical state because of these practices,” noting that“ the Hariri government is being formed today in the same way previous governments were formed, and here it is not. It matters whether the faces are old or new. ”

He warned that if the formation of an appropriate government will not see the light, the Lebanese Forces Party “will not grant its confidence, because such a government means the country will waste more time when we are in a dire need of every day, every hour and every minute to rescue Lebanon.”

Lebanon is facing a financial meltdown, the country’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war and which is rooted in endemic corruption, waste and mismanagement.

With the delay in the formation of a new government, any improvement to the country’s situation is unlikely as there will be no international support in the absence of reforms, regardless of who wins the American elections.