x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Holiday period over for Hariri

After a week of rest and reflection in the south of France, the prime minister-designate Saad Hariri returns to Beirut.

Election signs, including posters of Saad Hariri, dominated neighborhoods in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in May 2009. Mr Hariri is now addressing the possible derailment of his efforts towards a national unity government.
Election signs, including posters of Saad Hariri, dominated neighborhoods in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli in May 2009. Mr Hariri is now addressing the possible derailment of his efforts towards a national unity government.

Beirut // After a week of rest and reflection in the south of France, the prime minister-designate Saad Hariri returned to Beirut yesterday to address the defection of a top ally that threatens to derail his efforts to form a national unity government. Optimism that Mr Hariri could produce an effective unity cabinet in the wake of his party's victory in June's legislative elections was quickly quashed by the manoeuvring of the Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, who announced last week that he was leaving Mr Hariri's coalition, nicknamed March 14.

After Mr Hariri negotiated a carefully crafted compromise with the Hizbollah-led opposition to offer a cabinet composed of 15 majority seats, 10 opposition seats and five seats designated to the mostly neutral presidential bloc, it was widely expected that a cabinet would quickly follow, until Mr Jumblatt's decision to leave March 14 a week ago. After Mr Hariri shocked Lebanon with an unannounced French holiday just hours after Mr Jumblatt's announcement, the political crisis appeared stuck, with each side trying to determine the meaning of Mr Jumblatt's decision.

As Mr Hariri retuned to Beirut, he was expected to meet Mr Jumblatt to discuss what the latter's departure from March 14 would mean for cabinet deliberations. In a series of interviews and statements in the wake of last week's controversy, Mr Jumblatt denied that his move had been intended to weaken the majority control over the parliament and cabinet and he stressed that he had no desire to join the opposition.

If Mr Jumblatt were to withdraw his support for Mr Hariri in the cabinet, it would leave March 14 with a narrow three-seat majority in parliament, which could upset Lebanon's careful balance of power. But in departing the majority, Mr Jumblatt's harsh criticism of his then allies from several right-wing Christian parties appears to have alienated an important March 14 constituency, and several Christian parties wish to deny Mr Jumblatt the three cabinet seats allocated for his Druze followers.

Any refusal to seat Mr Jumblatt's cabinet picks threatens to derail the carefully vetted 15-10-5 compromise, which the opposition still considers as the only viable plan for a unity government. "The suggestion of a technocrat government is not realistic," Hizbollah MP Mohammed Raad told al-Nour radio station, adding "PM-designate Saad Hariri should form the cabinet and we have to help him in that."

"It would be very difficult to find a formula that would replace the 15-10-5 formula. We won't find one," he stressed, adding that "blaming [the opposition] is just a cover-up for their internal disagreement", among March 14's Christian allies. At the same time, March 14 members spent much of yesterday casting doubt on the viability of the cabinet formula in light of Mr Jumblatt's perceived betrayal.

Sunni MP Ahmad Fatfat told Future News yesterday that the cabinet formula "was not a final agreement and was based on certain circumstances, however, these circumstances have changed due to Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt's realignment", a reference to his split from the March 14 alliance. "Forming the new cabinet formation will inevitably take some time, especially since there are unrealistic demands and new developments," Mr Fatfat said, adding that he does not expect the government formation to be delayed until after September.

@Email:mprothero@thenational