Hussein Dakroub – The Daily Star
Lebanon’s political crisis deepened Sunday after attempts to agree on a new prime minister foundered on the rock of conflicting positions as clearly manifested in a new war of statements between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement. The Future Movement and the FPM constitute the mainstay of the 2016 political settlement that led to Michel Aoun’s election as president and brought Saad Hariri back to the premiership and their harsh diatribe could imperil the deal.
The dramatic development was bound to further add to the deteriorating economic and financial conditions that have triggered nationwide anti-government street protests.
The unprecedented popular uprising showed no signs of letup as it entered its second month Sunday, as thousands of protesters across the country appeared as determined as ever to forge ahead with their demonstrations and sit-ins until their demands for an overhaul of the decades-old sectarian political system, the formation of a technocratic government, early parliamentary elections, and the return of “looted public money” have been met.
Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 under pressure of snowballing street protests, bringing down with him his 30-member Cabinet. He and the Cabinet are now serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed.
“Cabinet formation attempts, including designating a new prime minister, are back to square one with political rivals still disagreeing on who should head the next government,” an official source told The Daily Star.
“Worse still, the war of statements between feuding parties is expected to further complicate the Cabinet formation process,” the source said.
Given the gloomy political outlook, the source said Aoun was unlikely to set a date soon to hold binding parliamentary consultations with MPs to appoint a new prime minister before the tense situation calms down.
Former premier Fouad Siniora said the position he and former premiers Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam had declared in supporting Hariri’s nomination for the premiership “emanated from their full awareness of the dangerous difficulties through which Lebanon is passing at the internal political, economic and financial levels.”
In a rare blistering attack on the FPM headed by caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Hariri’s media office blasted the party’s “irresponsible” policy toward the national crisis, blaming it for the delay in the formation of a new Cabinet.
A statement released earlier Sunday said that it was issued in response to news surrounding the nomination of former Economy Minister Mohammad Safadi to replace Hariri as premier, following a meeting involving major political parties the FPM, the Future Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
However, Safadi’s nomination drew outrage from protesters, who gathered Saturday evening outside his houses in Beirut and Tripoli to condemn his possible nomination for the job. Safadi later Saturday night announced that he had pulled out as a candidate to become the next prime minister.
“Since former Minister Mohammad Safadi asked to withdraw his candidacy for the formation of the new government, the Free Patriotic Movement has been trying, either through statements from its deputies and officials or through media leaks, to hold Prime Minister Saad Hariri responsible for this withdrawal, under the pretext that he backed down on promises made to minister Safadi and that this candidacy was only a maneuver to limit the possibility of forming a government to Prime Minister Hariri,” the statement issued by Hariri’s office said.
It denied “false accusations” made by FPM officials regarding Safadi’s withdrawal statement.
“Reviewing the withdrawal statement of minister Safadi is sufficient to show that he was sure of Prime Minister Hariri’s support for him and his best relationship with him. He also hoped that Prime Minister Hariri would be designated again, which totally contradicts the FPM’s version,” the statement said. “It is also clear in the statement that Safadi was sincere and transparent in announcing that he found difficulty in ‘forming a homogeneous government supported by all political parties that would enable it to take immediate rescue measures that would put an end to the economic and financial deterioration and respond to the aspirations of the people in the street,’ which completely contradicts the allegations of the FPM and its officials,” it added. Noting that it was Bassil who insistently twice proposed the name of Safadi, Hariri quickly agreed to, after Hariri’s proposal of names from the civil society, most notably judge Nawaf Salam, had been repeatedly rejected, the statement from Hariri’s office said: “It is not surprising that Prime Minister Hariri approved the candidacy of … Safadi, as everyone knows their friendship that was translated in many political occasions.”
The statement rejected FPM accusations that Hariri was maneuvering with Safadi’s nomination in order to return to the premiership.
“Prime Minister Hariri does not maneuver, and does not seek to limit the possibility of forming a government to himself. He was the first to present alternative names to form a government,” the statement said, adding: “He [Hariri] was clear, from the first day of the government’s resignation, with all the representatives of parliamentary blocs, that he does not evade any national responsibility, but national responsibility itself requires him to inform the Lebanese and parliamentary blocs in advance that if he is named in the binding parliamentary consultations imposed by the Constitution, he will only form a government of technocrats, based on his conviction that only such a government is capable of facing the severe and deep economic crisis through which Lebanon is going.”
Hariri said had it not been for the FPM’s “irresponsible policy,” a new government would have been formed to cope with a major political and economic crisis.
“The policy of maneuvers and leaks and the attempt to score the points adopted by the Free Patriotic Movement is an irresponsible policy in the major national crisis that our country is going through,” the statement said.
“If it had done a real review, it would have stopped such an irresponsible policy and its repeated attempts to infiltrate the government lineups, and the government would have been formed and would have begun to address the serious national and economic crisis. And perhaps our country wouldn’t have reached this point in the first place.”
In a swift response, the FPM accused Hariri of following a policy to monopolize the premiership for himself.
“The reasons for Lebanon reaching this difficult situation go back to the financial and economic policies and practices that consecrated the policy of corruption over the past 30 years and its owners are still insisting on practicing it despite the suffering through which we have passed,” the FPM’s Central Media Committee said. It said the statement issued by Hariri’s office contained “a host of allegations and twisted facts.”
The FPM statement said that following Hariri’s resignation, the FPM offered all facilities in order to accelerate the salvation operation by not rejecting the name [Safadi] proposed by Hariri to form a new Cabinet.
“But it became clear that Prime Minister Hariri’s policy is based only on the principle of ‘I or no one else’ to the head of the government. A proof of this was his [Hariri’s] insistence on heading a government of specialists.” The statement added.
Despite the criticism, the FPM statement called on Hariri to join them in ongoing efforts to “agree on a prime minister who can bring all the Lebanese together.”
“There is still an opportunity for all of us to rescue the country instead of letting it fall into bankruptcy and corruption,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, bank employees will continue their strike Monday, George al-Hajj, the head of the Federation of Syndicates of Bank Employees, told local news channel MTV Sunday. The federation started a strike last Tuesday, citing safety concerns of employees.