Diab Holds Non-Binding Consultations to Form Government
Lebanon's premier-designate Hassan Diab begins Saturday non-binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs in order to form Lebanon’s much-delayed government amid wide protests rejecting his designation.
Diab, a university professor and former education minister, will have to steer Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. He's also taking office against the backdrop of ongoing nationwide protests against the country's ruling elite.
Diab began his meetings Saturday at parliament with Speaker Nabih Berri, then held talks with former prime ministers, including caretaker premier Hariri.
Berri did not make any statement to reporters after the meeting.
Later a statement was released by Berri's media office, he said the “new government is an opportunity for reunion” and should “represent all political parties starting with the protest movement, al-Mustaqbal Movement (of resigned PM Saad Hariri), the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP).”
The PSP's Democratic Gathering bloc of ex-MP Walid Jumblat officially announced non-participation in the consultations and the new government.
After holding talks with Diab, Hariri did not comment on the government formation, but urged his supporters to “express their opinion peacefully without assaulting the Lebanese army and security forces," after Friday's clashes between the two in Corniche al-Mazraa.
“When PM Rafik Hariri was assassinated, we did not hurl stones at anyone. You can express your opinion peacefully and the Lebanese army is our army.”
After meeting Diab, Hariri and Berri held talks on the sidelines of the consultations.
Former PM Tammam Salam said after meeting the PM-designate: “We are in the midst of an uncomfortable situation in the country, especially that a large group does not agree with what is happening. What we witnessed yesterday in the streets is not permissible.”
On Friday, scuffles broke out in Beirut and other areas between supporters of Hariri, and Lebanese troops and riot policemen. The ex-premier's supporters were protesting Diab's nomination. The scuffles left at least seven soldiers injured.
“We look forward to forming an effective government of experts,” said Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli, adding “we called for a small government, implementation of reforms and fighting corruption.”
Al-Mustaqbal Movement bloc told Diab that it will not take part in the new government, and urged the PM-designate for a “swift government formation.”
Development and Liberation bloc met Diab and called for an “emergency cabinet representing all parties and the popular movement in order to rescue the country from the current crisis.”
Hizbullah’s Loyalty to the Resistance bloc voiced calls for “serious dialogue in order to rescue the country,” said MP Mohammed Raad. “No one wants a government of confrontations. Rather, it must present the correct approach to energize the financial and economic situation.”
The Kataeb bloc said: "Staging early parliamentary elections is the only solution for the crisis paving way for the people to choose their representatives."
Lebanese banks have imposed unprecedented capital controls over the past weeks. Thousands have lost their jobs, while the economy is expected to contract in 2020.
The new prime minister won a majority of lawmakers' votes after receiving backing from Hizbullah and its allies, which have a majority of seats in parliament.
However, he lacks the support of major Sunni figures, including the largest Sunni party headed by Hariri.
That's particularly problematic for Diab, who, as a Sunni, doesn't have the backing of his own community. And under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing agreement, the prime minister must be Sunni.
Hizbullah had backed Hariri for prime minister from the start, but the group differed with him over the shape of the new government.
Lebanon's sustained, leaderless protests erupted in mid-October, and forced Hariri's resignation within days. But politicians were later unable to agree on a new prime minister. The ongoing protests and paralysis have worsened the economic crisis.