Lebanon’s government formation faces decisive 24 hours as French deadline nears

Source: Annahar
Georgi Azar
Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib speaks to journalists at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo)
Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib speaks to journalists at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. (AP Photo)
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BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Moustapha Adib is expected to submit a Cabinet lineup proposal to President Michel Aoun on Monday, sources familiar with the negotiations told Annahar, despite the lack of a breakthrough over the hotly contested finance portfolio. 

On Sunday, Speaker Nabih Berri informed Adib that his Amal Movement will not partake in the Cabinet if his party isn’t awarded the Finance Ministry portfolio.

“We informed the prime minister-designate that we do not want to participate in the next government,” a statement issued by Berri’s office said, adding that the group aims to "do all that is necessary to safeguard Lebanon's stability and undertake reforms to save its economy."

Berri had argued that the Taef agreement reserved the finance ministry portfolio to a Shiite, awarding the community a key signature in the executive branch under Lebanon’s confessional power sharing system. The Finance Minister’s signature is required on all decrees that entail government spending, effectively granting the post holder veto power on a wide range of fiscal and administrative issues including the appointment of senior civil servants.

Many, however, contest Berri’s claim, noting that the post has been held by Sunnis, Christians and Shiites since the '90s. The post is currently held by caretaker Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, an economist with close ties to Berri. Prior to Wazni, Berri’s political aid, Ali Hassan Khalil, held the post. Khalil was sanctioned by the U.S last week for providing financial support for Hezbollah.

The stalemate is likely to hinder the formation of a Cabinet given the lack of support from Lebanon's two main Shiite groups, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Berri’s Amal Movement, as the deadline set by French President Emanuel Macron to form a new government nears its end.

During his visit to Beirut on September 1, Macron urged officials to form a scaled-down government made up of independent experts tasked with implementing the necessary reforms. 

Talal Arslan, leader of the Druze National Democratic Party and an ally of both Berri and Hezbollah, blasted France's initiative as "foreign bullying."

"Beware of making the Lebanese people choose between hunger and civil peace," he tweeted, adding that "whoever forms a government alone will work alone and will fail."

Aoun’s son-in-law, the leader Lebanon's largest Christian parliamentary group Gebran Bassil, also announced Sunday that his party will not take part in the Cabinet but will support the new government.

“We don’t have a desire to participate in the new government, we don’t want to participate in it,” Bassil said during a televised speech on Sunday morning.

Bassil, a Hezbollah ally who had repeatedly clashed with Berri in the past, has been under pressure from the international community to facilitate the formation of an independent government amid reports that he may be the next target of U.S sanctions.

“As the Free Patriotic Movement, we are committed to the success of the French initiative but hold a great fear that it will fail,” Bassil said, while criticizing Berri for insisting on nominating the upcoming finance minister.

“The constitution is clear about not allocating a ministry to a sect,” Bassil said.

Bassil’s remarks were interpreted by analysts as a sign that Aoun may endorse Adib's lineup and throw the ball in Parliament’s court where the proposed Cabinet will have to secure a majority to win the vote of confidence  

Even if the Cabinet line-up secure such a majority, it is almost certain to face accusations of “violating Lebanon’s National Pact,” as Arslan noted in his tweet on Sunday, referring to the lack of support in parliament for the government among Shiite lawmakers.

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