Lebanon closer to government as economic pressures loom

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri gestures as he talks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. (File photo / Reuters)
Updated 29 October 2018
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Lebanon closer to government as economic pressures loom

  • Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri has been trying to form a government since a parliamentary election in May
  • Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri suggested that a breakthrough could be imminent

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri looked closer to forming a new national unity government as a major Christian party declared on Monday it would take part despite being offered an “unjust” share of cabinet seats.
Hariri has been trying to form the new government since a May parliamentary election, with rivalry between the Lebanese Forces (LF) and President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) — both Christian groups — seen as the main obstacle.
The delay has held up economic reforms that have been put off for years but are now seen as more pressing than ever.
Lebanon is wrestling with the world’s third largest public debt-to-GDP ratio, stagnant growth and what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said are increasing vulnerabilities within its financial system.
LF leader Samir Geagea said the ministerial portfolios offered to his party represented a “very big injustice” when compared with the size of its enlarged parliamentary bloc and the ministries offered to other groups.
But the LF had nevertheless decided to take part “to continue to work from inside the government to achieve our goals,” he told a news conference.
A government formed on this basis would be seen as a political victory for Aoun, an ally of the Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, over his old adversary Geagea, Hezbollah’s most prominent opponent in Lebanon.
The election produced a parliament tilted in favor of Hezbollah. Together, Hezbollah and its political allies secured more than 70 of the 128 seats. The group is proscribed as a terrorist movement by the United States.
The LF nearly doubled its number of MPs, winning 15 seats.
Government posts in Lebanon are filled according to a strict sectarian system: the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim. Posts in the cabinet of 30 ministers must be split equally between Christian and Muslims.
HEZBOLLAH DEMANDS
Hezbollah is expected to take control of the health ministry, the most significant cabinet post it has held, and to increase its number of ministers to three from two in the outgoing cabinet.
The group also wants to see one of its Sunni allies installed as a minister in the new government of 30 ministers, two senior officials familiar with the matter said.
Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni politician, has so far resisted this demand. He lost more than one third of his seats in the election, several to Sunni allies of Hezbollah and its regional allies Syria and Iran.
One of the officials said the Sunni issue may hold up a final agreement but would not derail it. A second political source familiar with Hezbollah’s demands said there would be no government unless one of its Sunni allies became a minister.
Hezbollah hopes the formation will be soon.
“We are in the last phase and the period of serious anticipation,” Mohammad Raad, a leading member of the group, said in televised remarks.


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 17 July 2019
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.