Far from having captured the message sent by angry demonstrators in recent days, let alone the call by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday for the "rapid formation of a cabinet that proves itself," the president of the republic still refrains from setting a date for par-liamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister, pending a consensus on the name of Hassan Diab's successor. This position risks arousing the anger of the Sunni community, which might see it as an infringement on the Prime Minister’s prerogatives.
One must recall that President Michel Aoun adopted the same approach following the resignation of Saad Hariri's cabinet under pressure from demonstrators on October 29. For him, it is a way to facilitate the rapid formation of a new cabinet.
In any case, the president believes that it is still early to talk about the future head of govern-ment. Asked by L'Orient-Le Jour, Salim Jreissati, the president’s advisor, explained that the next cabinet should be a government of actions, of restoring confidence in Lebanon and capable of committing itself to carry out the expected reforms. "Several parameters must therefore be taken into consideration, namely the person of the prime minister, the structure of his team and his commitment to carry out the reforms. It's about putting together a team of men and women with experience, who have demonstrated their capacity in matters of public affairs and who have no previous commitments." Is the president therefore in favor of a government of independent ex-perts? "We didn't say that. It's important to us that a cabinet, that doesn't always call for an in-ternational investigation (in the case of the August 4 disaster), be formed," Jreissati said. His words should not be interpreted as an attempt by Baabda to block the return to the Sérail of Hariri, the Future Movement's leader, he said.
The parties in power have already started negotiations to form the new government. A few hours after Diab's resignation, House Speaker Nabih Berri met in Ain el-Tineh with the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil, as well as with Hussein Khalil, the right-hand man of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Also present was former Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, Berri's political advisor. An informed source reported that participants agreed on rejecting the formation of a neutral cabinet and holding early legislative elections, as called for by the protest movement. On the other hand, the source added, they were in favor of a national ac-cord cabinet.
This is certainly not without raising fears of a possible return to the usual quota war that may par-alyze the process, at a time the country should have a cabinet as soon as possible. But Bassil, long accused of knowingly obstructing government negotiations to secure the ministerial portfolios he wants, was quick to assure on his Twitter account that the FPM "will facilitate and collaborate in the formation of a productive and efficient cabinet." He was, of course, joined on this point by the parliamentary Aounist bloc, which met on Tuesday. One interpretation would be that the FPM would thus imply that it may opt for a “one-color” government, bringing together the com-ponents of the March 8 Coalition.
But this option seems to be ruled out in some political circles. Instead, three scenarios are on the table. One would like Hariri to form a cabinet that would turn the country around within six months, but this scenario faces a double veto from Aoun and Bassil. A second scenario envisages the formation of a national accord cabinet. But such an option is apparently excluded, at least for the moment, and for a good reason: calming the anger of protestors must imply a break with the cake sharing approach that such a team would revive. As for the third possibility, it focuses on a neutral team that would commit to carry out reforms and draw up a roadmap to bring the country out of the economic crisis.
No to the "Hegemony of Bassil and Hezbollah"
The opposition, on the other hand, has already started fine tuning its stance before embarking on the cabinet formation process. What matters most to the opposition is the creation of a cabinet not dominated by the Bassil-Hezbollah alliance. This position is in line with the international community's calls to free the country from the yoke of the Shiite party, even if France continues to distinguish itself in this respect by recognizing it as a component of the Lebanese political fab-ric and refraining from classifying it as a "terrorist organization." The veto on a cabinet sponsored by the Hezbollah-Bassil duo was expressed by the Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc at the end of its extraordinary meeting on Wednesday in Meerab. In turn, Marwan Hamade, (resigned) Chouf deputy, is very clear on this point. "The important thing is to put an end to the hegemony of corruption under the current regime," he told L'Orient-Le Jour, deeming it "indecent to already talk about the cabinet unless to get the country out of its misery."
For his part, the parliament speaker, who on Tuesday chaired a meeting of his parliamentary bloc, is continuing his consultations to form a new cabinet. Berri also met on Tuesday with the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, and is expected to meet with Hariri in the next 24 hours. Speaking at the end of the meeting attended by Taymour Jumblatt and Wael Abu Faour, respectively Chouf and Rashaya deputies, the Druze leader abstained both from nominat-ing a candidate to head the cabinet and from describing the next ministerial team. However, he stressed the importance of forming "an emergency cabinet to resolve the country's crisis," assur-ing that he will coordinate with Berri.
Commenting on the resignation of Diab, Jumblatt said: "He burnt Beirut and caused his own downfall."
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 12th of August)
The political players, especially those in power, do not seem to be aware of the severity of the crises the country is going through, especially after the disaster of the double explosion that shook the port of Beirut. They believe they can maintain their futile power sharing practices. So as far as the next cabinet is concerned, there is nothing to expect before a broad political agree-ment is...