Political impasse, foreign pressure give new political lease on life for Hariri

Hariri could accept that Hezbollah nominates “non-provocative politicians.”
Sunday 15/12/2019
Back in the game. Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, last November. (Reuters)
Back in the game. Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, last November. (Reuters)

BEIRUT - While political parties in Lebanon stress the urgency of forming a government capable of gaining foreign assistance to curb Lebanon’s economic downfall, power struggles and political wrangling prevented the nomination of a prime minister to replace Saad Hariri, who resigned more than a month ago.

The latest front-runner, Samir Khatib, withdrew his name following an objection by political and spiritual leaders of the Sunni community, to which the post is allocated. The country’s top Sunni religious leader called Hariri the preferred candidate, increasing his chances to return as head of government.

Under Lebanon’s sectarian-based political system, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, the president a Christian Maronite and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim.

Parties have been haggling over the nature of the government for weeks. While Hariri called for an independent government of technocrats, his opponents — the powerful Shia Hezbollah and its allies, Shia Amal movement and Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), headed by his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil — insisted on a semi-technical and semi-political administration.

Bassil announced that the FPM, which has the largest number of seats in parliament, will not take part in a cabinet led by Hariri. “Its fate (would be) definitely failure. This is not avoiding responsibility… We will form a constructive opposition,” he said.

Bassil’s comments  could pave the way for a cabinet formed by Hariri, ending a deadlock that has gripped the country since Hariri’s resignation October 29.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called for a “largely representative” government in which all parties would assume the responsibility of pulling Lebanon out of its socio-economic crisis and fulfil protesters’ demands.

“A reformist government necessitates the participation of all political powers and no party should be excised. It also does not necessarily mean a government of technocrats,” Nasrallah said, in allusion to the FPM.

He said he hopes that mandatory consultations between Aoun and parliamentary blocs, set for December 16, would result in nominating a prime minister. The consultations were postponed once before over disagreements on who to nominate.

“Until this very moment, Saad Hariri’s return is almost 99% sure,” said Rached Fayed, a politburo member of Hariri’s Future Movement party. “He has already talked to the World Bank and [International Monetary Fund] IMF chiefs to help find a solution to the present crisis. This signals that he would be willing to assume that responsibility. It also means that he may be willing to reach a compromise with the parties (Hezbollah and Amal) who want to be represented by politicians.”

“He (Hariri) might accept, for instance, to have Hezbollah nominate non-provocative politicians who are at the same time technocrats such as the (outgoing) minister of health,” Fayed  said.

Political analyst Nabil Bou Monsef said he was sceptical about FPM’s decision to boycott a Hariri-led government. “I personally believe things will get more complicated. Bassil’s exit could mean a clash with the president. I have the impression that we are heading to a more complicated power struggle and settling political accounts.”

“If Hariri is nominated by Hezbollah and Amal MPs in the consultations with the president, it will show a flagrant divergence from their ally, the FPM,” Bou Monsef said.

“Even if Hariri is nominated tomorrow, the formation of the government will take much time,” he said. “I guess Hariri would make concessions to assure Amal and Hezbollah that he is not implementing an American agenda to clip their wings… The equation would be they support him to lead the government and he will accept to have them represented by a number of politicians.”

The international community is increasing pressure on Lebanon to form a credible, reform-minded government, a condition for receiving urgent aid.

“The only possible criteria (for aid) are the effectiveness of the government in implementing the reforms awaited by the population. This is the only way that the participants around this table and beyond can mobilise to give Lebanon the support it needs,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris on December 11.

Lebanon has been rocked by unprecedented popular protests over official mismanagement and corruption since October 17.