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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Walid Joumblatt doubtful that Saad Hariri can form Lebanon’s government soon

The Lebanese Prime Minister says he is hopeful of breaking the political deadlock, but not everyone is sure

An image Tweeted by Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury of Saad Hariri attending a dinner at Kelly's Fish Lounge with Walid Joumblatt, Nora Joumblatt and MP Wael Abu Faour. 
An image Tweeted by Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury of Saad Hariri attending a dinner at Kelly's Fish Lounge with Walid Joumblatt, Nora Joumblatt and MP Wael Abu Faour. 

Lebanon’s Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri is unlikely to form a government in the next few days, despite saying he was confident of a breakthrough eight months after Parliamentary elections, Druze leader Walid Joumblatt told The National on Wednesday.

“Unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat, Mr Hariri has little chance of forming a government soon,” the head of the Progressive Socialist Party said. “I was recently asked to make concessions and I politely refused.”

Mr Joumblatt said he would not give up the education and industry ministries that his PSP have been promised.

“On a personal level, I have no problem with Mr Hariri. On a political level, there are fundamental differences between us, particularly regarding privatisation: the government is paying a hefty price to private companies to work on the Tripoli refinery and the Deir el Ammar power station” said Mr Joumblatt.

The leader of the Druze, who make up an estimated 8 per cent of the Lebanese population, is not the only one sceptical of a deal and those include members of Mr Hariri’s own Future Movement.

“Mr Hariri is trying to push people to be more optimistic, but I think the obstacles concerning the formation of the government are still essentially the same,” said Moustapha Allouche, member of the Future Movement Political Bureau, referring to the inclusion of other Sunni MPs as demanded by Hezbollah.

Once again, Mr Hariri has said he’s confident of securing a deal to form a new Cabinet after several major setbacks and months of horse trading.

On Tuesday, Mr Hariri said that "matters are positive and will become clear within two days... This week is decisive, positively or negatively," adding that he was “cautiously optimistic”.

It’s not the first time that Mr Hariri has announced a decisive week or the imminent formation of a Cabinet. In early October, he threatened to resign if the government wasn’t formed within 10 days. The deadline passed, but he remained.

Mr Hariri’s optimism was echoed by MP Abdul Rahim Mrad, who told The National that he believes that the government would be formed in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Mr Mrad is one of the Sunni MPs that Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed party and traditional opponent of Mr Hariri’s Future Movement, has been pushing to include in the government. Mr Hariri, whose own party is usually the Cabinet representative of Sunnis in the country, opposed rivals from his sect being granted seats.

“One of the three names we have suggested to be appointed Minister of State (a junior position within the Lebanese government) will be accepted,” Mr Mrad.

This would be interpreted as a concession by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, said Wissam Lahham, a lecturer in constitutional law at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut.

“According to unofficial political practices in place since 2005, the President gets to nominate three ministers,” he explained. “As Mr Hariri refuses to appoint a Sunni who is not from his camp, Mr Aoun will have to give up one of his three appointees to replace him with a pro-Hezbollah Sunni and end the crisis.”

If they agree, a balance would be struck. Each bloc would control a third of the government: 10 ministers associated with the Free Patriotic Movement, founded by Mr Aoun; 10 ministers would be under Mr Hariri’s wing and the other 10 would be close to Hezbollah.

“As usual, there would be a cold-war type of balance within the government”, says Mr Lahham.

Lebanon’s power-sharing agreement is supposed to give proportional representation to each of the 18 denominations, which is a recurring source of tension in local politics. If one political party controls over one-third of the ministers, it can effectively veto policy or topple the government. This happened in 2011, when 11 ministers from Hezbollah and its allies resigned en-masse as Mr Hariri was in Washington meeting then US president Barak Obama.

Updated: January 30, 2019 09:11 PM

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