A much-anticipated meeting between President Michel Aoun and PM-designate Saad Hariri has failed to achieve any breakthrough in the stalled cabinet formation process.
“Unfortunately, His Excellency the President sent me yesterday a full line-up put together by him, which contained the allocation of portfolios to sects and parties, with a letter saying that it would be better if I filled it up,” Hariri said after meeting Aoun in Baabda.
“The paper contained a one-third-plus-one share for his political camp in formats of 18 ministers, 20 ministers and 22 ministers. His Excellency asked me to suggest candidates for the portfolios according to the sectarian and partisan distribution prepared b him,” the PM-designate added.
“With all due transparency, I will tell you what I told him today. First: It is unacceptable because the PM-designate’s job is not to fill papers submitted by anyone not it is the job of the President to form governments. And secondly because our constitution clearly says that the PM-designate would form a cabinet, select names and discuss the line-up with the President,” Hariri went on to say.
He added: “Accordingly, I told His Excellency with all due respect that I will consider his letter null and void and I returned it to him. I also told him that I will keep a copy of it for history!”
Hariri also added that he told Aoun that he had submitted a cabinet line-up 100 days ago and that he is still ready for “any suggestions and modifications regarding names and portfolios.”
“I even facilitated the solution for him regarding his insistence on the interior portfolio, but unfortunately his clear answer was the one-third-plus-one share,” the PM-designate said.
Stressing that his only goal is to “put an end to the collapse and the suffering of the Lebanese,” Hariri said he called on the President to “hear the pain of the Lebanese.”
“I asked him to give the country its last and only chance, through the formation of a government of specialists that would achieve reforms and halt the collapse, without obstruction or narrow partisan considerations,” the PM-designate added.
And responding to Aoun’s complaint that he has only presented “broad lines” for the cabinet line-up, Hariri distributed to reporters copies of the line-up he had submitted to the President on December 9, which contains the names and portfolios of the proposed candidates.
Hariri's remarks crushed hopes for a government breakthrough, as political leaders continue to wrangle over cabinet shares despite widespread anger at an economic crisis that has reignited street protests against a decades-old ruling class.
The outgoing government of premier Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of an August 4 explosion at Beirut's port that killed more than 200 people and ravaged swaths of the capital.
Lebanon's leaders have since traded blame for the government delay, with Aoun calling on Hariri to step down if he is incapable of forming a government suitable to all parties.
Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who is an ally of Aoun, has also criticized the hold up.
In a speech on Thursday, Nasrallah called on Hariri to abandon his push for a 18-member cabinet comprised entirely of technocrats.
"A government of technocrats that is not backed by political groups won't save the country," Nasrallah said, calling for established parties to also be represented.
In a report published ahead of Monday's meeting, the pro-Hizbullah al-Akhbar daily said there is "no hope for a breakthrough."
"Nothing has changed."
Lebanon is in the grips of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
More than half the population lives below the poverty line and the national currency has lost more than 85 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market.
The Lebanese pound, pegged at 1,507 to the greenback since 1997, sold for 15,000 to the dollar on the black market last week at an all-time low.
The rapid currency plunge reignited street protests that started in 2019 but were temporarily snuffed out last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
- 'Going in circles' -
Demonstrators criticised officials for wrangling over cabinet posts instead of coming together to form a government capable of spearheading reforms long demanded by donors and the international community.
"There are no signs indicating we are heading towards a solution," Lebanon's French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour reported on Monday.
"Talks are going in circles."
The international community has also denounced the performance of Lebanese officials.
"Lebanese authorities should act urgently to halt the deepening crisis and ensure good governance," United Nations humanitarian coordinator Najat Rochdi told the Security Council last week.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who is leading the international charge against Lebanon's under-fire politicians, said last week he would push for a new approach to "prevent the collapse of the country".
The European Union and the United States should also ramp up pressure on Lebanese politicians, said a French diplomatic source, who did not rule out the possibility of sanctions.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday pressed his European counterparts to take action to stave off Lebanon's collapse.
"I want us to be able to discuss together the levers that would allow us to put pressure on the Lebanese authorities," he said in Brussels.
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