Lebanon president says government will be formed ‘very soon’

In this file photo, Lebanese President Michel Aoun arrives to deliver a speech during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on Sept. 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2018

Lebanon president says government will be formed ‘very soon’

  • "Yes, the government will be very soon or sooner,” said President Michel Aoun while responding to reporters
  • Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday said "Forming the government is taking longer than expected but we will get there"

BEIRUT: Lebanon's president said on Thursday a government would be formed very soon as political parties intensified negotiations to break a deadlock more than five months after elections.
Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has been negotiating with Lebanon's rival parties since a parliamentary election in May to form a new power-sharing cabinet, but they have so far been unable to reach consensus.
Asked by reporters on Thursday if a government would be agreed on, President Michel Aoun replied: "Yes, the government will be very soon or sooner."
The major parties have jostled over the number of cabinet seats they should get and over the apportionment of the most powerful ministries. In recent days stepped-up talks between leaders have increased optimism that the deadlock may soon be broken.
"Forming the government is taking longer than expected but we will get there," Hariri said on Tuesday.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to return to Lebanon from a trip abroad on Friday.
The delay has increased concern over the threat of an economic crisis in the heavily-indebted country. Lebanon has the third largest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world at more than 150 percent, and a new government is expected to start moves towards bringing down the deficit.


Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

Updated 13 November 2019

Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

  • UN has put forward a phased roadmap calling for an immediate end to violence and electoral reform within 2 weeks
  • Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials must ramp up their response to mass demonstrations demanding an overhaul of the political system, the UN representative in Baghdad told AFP in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who heads the UN’s Iraq mission (UNAMI), said the country’s authorities must “step up to the plate and make things happen.”
“They are elected by the people, they are accountable to them,” she said.
Protests broke out in Baghdad and the country’s Shiite-majority south in early October over rampant corruption, lack of jobs and notoriously poor services.
One in five people lives below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second biggest producer.
The United Nations has proposed a phased roadmap that, in a crucial step, was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani after meeting Hennis-Plasschaert.
It calls for an immediate end to violence, electoral reform and anti-graft measures within two weeks followed by constitutional amendments and infrastructure legislation within three months.
Hennis-Plasschaert discussed the plan with lawmakers on the sidelines of a parliamentary session on Wednesday, telling them: “Now is the time to act, otherwise any momentum will be lost — lost at a time when many, many Iraqis demand concrete results.”
Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change, unimpressed by government promises of reform.
“There is lots at stake here. Public trust is at an all-time low,” Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP.
“Nothing is more detrimental to public trust than saying ‘A’ and doing ‘B.’ Nothing is more harmful than overpromising and under-delivering,” she added.
Hennis-Plasschaert, 46, was named UNAMI chief last year after having served as the Netherlands defense minister from 2012 until 2017.
She is one of the very few diplomatic figures who meets with Sistani, the revered 89-year-old cleric who never appears in public.
Following their meeting on Monday, she said Sistani, known as the marjaiyah, feared political forces were “not serious enough” to enact reforms.
“If the three authorities — executive, judiciary and legislative — are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach,” she warned at the time.
Pressed by AFP on what the “different approach” could be, Hennis-Plasschaert declined to elaborate, citing “the confidentiality we have with him.”
“The conversation with Grand Ayatollah Sistani is always straightforward, open, and frank, but I cannot go into further detail,” the top diplomat said.
Demonstrators gathering in the main protest camp of Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Wednesday said her meeting with Sistani helped bolster their crowds.
Hennis-Plasschaert met with protesters in Tahrir last month, even riding in the tuk-tuk rickshaw that has become an icon of the uprising for ferrying wounded protesters to medics.
“They are losing brothers and friends in the streets,” she said of the young protesters she had met.
More than 300 people have died and 15,000 people have been wounded since demonstrations erupted on October 1.
“We are witnessing rising numbers of deaths and injured every day. It’s horrific,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The protests initially fractured the political class but it has rallied in recent days to prop up the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Politicians closed ranks following a series of meetings with top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, an extremely influential figure who often brokers deals among Iraq’s fractured political class.
Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP she did not seek to be a counter-weight to Iranian influence but said she feared that “spoilers” could prevent progress.
“This country unfortunately knows many actors, external, internal, that could act as spoilers (and) undermine the legitimate demands of the people,” she said.