Hezbollah, Berri oppose Cabinet of specialists
Jan. 10, 2020
BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab’s attempts to form an 18-member Cabinet of specialists appeared to unravel Thursday after Hezbollah joined Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in calling for an all-embracing government to halt the economic and financial deterioration and shield the country from regional tensions. Diab was reported to have made progress earlier this week in his efforts to overcome the remaining hurdles over the representation of the Christian and Sunni sects, mainly over who should be allotted the key Foreign and Interior ministries, that held up the government formation. The progress raised hopes for announcing the new government later this week.
Berri stood firm Thursday on his call for the formation of a techno-political government that also includes representatives of the unprecedented popular uprising that has swept the country since Oct. 17, demanding a change of the decades-old confessional ruling system and the removal of the entire political class they deem corrupt and incompetent.
Speaking to reporters at his Ain al-Tineh residence, Berri said he has proposed the formation of “a techno-political government” since caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri bowed out of the premiership race and after former ministers Mohammad Safafi and Bahij Tabbara and contractor Samir Khatib were nominated to form a new Cabinet.
“I reject a purely political government. Isn’t the current government a techno-political government? What matters for any government regardless of its shape are homogeneousness and the program,” Berri said.
He underlined the need for the new government to include representatives of the protest movement which has demanded the formation of a government made up of technocrats and experts independent of political parties.
Noting the situation in the region “is not good” and the situation in Lebanon is “unfortunately rolling from bad to worse,” Berri criticized the delay in the Cabinet formation.
“The solution in Lebanon requires [the formation of] a government that was supposed, benefiting from previous experiments, to be formed within 15 days. Why is there a delay and why propose new rules in the formation that contradict with norms?” Berri asked.
He was referring to Diab’s request that the new government must not include former ministers.
Berri denied reports that he did not want Diab as prime minister and that he preferred Hariri for the job. Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29 under pressure of the nationwide protests, bringing down his Cabinet with him.
Berri called on Hariri’s Cabinet, which is now serving in a caretaker capacity, to do its “constitutional duty” and tackle the citizens’ affairs. Also Thursday, a senior Hezbollah official said the deteriorating economic crisis and regional tensions should spur everyone to facilitate the formation of a new government embracing all parties to meet internal and external challenges.
Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed, the head of Hezbollah’s Political Council, spoke to reporters after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki at the head of a party delegation to congratulate him on the Christmas and New Year holidays.
“The talks dealt mostly with the need to speed up the formation of the government because the Lebanese situation, particularly the economic and living crisis, requires initiatives and facilities from Lebanese officials to form the government,” Sayyed said.
“Also, the developments in the region are another incentive for everyone to facilitate the formation process,” he added. He was referring to the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran following last week’s assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Al-Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport. Iran retaliated Tuesday night by firing more than a dozen missiles from its territory at U.S. bases in Iraq.
Sayyed rejected the formation of a “confrontational” Cabinet after four main parties - the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb Party - told Diab they would not participate in it. “No one wants a confrontational government because this will take the country to a different place. The talk about a salvation government means, as Speaker Berri has said, is that all [parties] must participate,” Sayyed said, adding: “What is required is the participation of everyone [in the government] because the responsibility for rescuing the country is the responsibility of everyone. We call for everyone to participate [in the government] in order to participate in saving the country.”
“We are with any government that is formed quickly with the approval of all sides,” Sayyed said. “If all sides agreed on a government of technocrats and experts, we will facilitate this. What matters is the formation of a government to carry out its duties and propose a rescue program in Lebanon.”
Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc in Parliament said in a statement after its weekly meeting: “The local and regional developments call for the formation of a government to assume responsibility for running the country’s affairs, protecting the interests of the Lebanese, and giving intensive care to rectify the financial, economic, monetary and living conditions and tackle accumulated crises.”
The FPM’s Strong Lebanon parliamentary bloc also called for the formation of a government that closes Lebanese ranks, while stressing its support for a Cabinet of specialists as envisaged by Diab.
“We are for closing ranks in the national sense because each side has the right to have its own political opinion, project and vision ... We support a government of specialists and our position ... will not change [on this matter]. Our support for the premier-designate to accomplish his mission is taken for granted,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan told reporters after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by FPM leader and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.