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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Lebanon's prime minister fires back at Hezbollah over government formation

Mr Hariri said that Hezbollah was largely responsible for the delay

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut. Reuters
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut. Reuters

Lebanon's prime minister-designate on Tuesday accused Hezbollah of obstructing the formation of a national unity government, in an unusually fiery speech that raised questions over the Shiite group’s intentions.

Saad Hariri's comments are a direct response to a speech delivered by Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah on Saturday in which he said that his group would not budge on a demand that is widely believed to be the primary obstacle to forming a government.

Rival political parties in Lebanon have been in disagreement since May’s parliamentary election over the distribution of key ministerial portfolios and the number of cabinet seats allocated to each group, hampering attempts by Mr Hariri to form a governing coalition.

Hezbollah, the prime minister's main political rival, has complicated the process by demanding representation for it's Sunni allies - a demand Mr Hariri has rejected. This has stymied any move towards resolving the current deadlock and led Mr Hariri’s allies to accuse Hezbollah of purposely delaying cabinet formation to undermine the prime minister.

“I have been very clear. I told Hezbollah early on that I categorically refuse to cede a seat to their Sunni allies,” the prime minister said in a press conference on Tuesday, adding that he believes that snags to the formation of a government are now larger than just the issue of Sunni representation.

If Hezbollah is so insistent on including its Sunni allies in government they could have assigned them one of their ministries, Mr Hariri said, hinting that the motives behind the Hezbollah demand lie beyond a simple drive to back their allies.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Nasrallah said that his group was ready to support its Sunni allies irrespective of what decision they take regarding their participation in government. “We have stood by them and will continue to do so, for one year, two years, or even till the end of days,” he said, hinting at the possibility of a long-lasting delay to the formation of a national unity government.

Hezbollah has previously accused Mr Hariri of trying to enforce a monopoly over Sunni representation, saying that is why he has refused the participation of Sunni officials not affiliated with his Future Movement bloc.

The prime minister responded by describing himself as the “father of Sunnis in Lebanon,” and said that he knows what is in their best interest.

Local and international officials have been calling for Lebanon to form a new cabinet quickly in order to pass much-needed reforms at a time when the long-stalled economy is on the verge of total collapse.

The current six-month-long political deadlock has threatened to plunge Lebanon into economic crisis given the country has the third-highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world.

The formation of a government would unlock money pledged by the international community in April to help the struggling economy and to benefit from other loans from the World