BEIRUT: Efforts to form a government and end the political stalemate gripping Lebanon reached a dead-end on Wednesday amid heated exchanges between President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
After Aoun’s political team, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), an ally of Hezbollah, announced that it had rejected Berri’s initiative to form a new government, the parliamentary speaker responded with a strongly worded statement accusing the Lebanese president of doing “what he has no constitutional right to do” by insisting on the blocking third in the government.
Aoun has demanded a third of all Cabinet seats, effectively giving his team veto power over government decisions.
Berri said that he had put forward the initiative “to help the Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri,” and accused Aoun of backing out of a pledge to support the formation of a new government.
“The president has no constitutional right to even one minister. He does not participate in voting, so how can he indirectly have votes?” Berri asked.
“The country is collapsing, institutions are deteriorating, and the people are suffering,” he added.
Addressing Aoun, the parliamentary speaker said: “You openly say that you do not want Hariri as prime minister. This is not your right; the decision to assign him is not yours, and the Parliament has voiced its decision loud and clear.”
In response, Aoun’s office issued a statement criticizing “statements and positions from various officials interfering in the process of forming a government.”
The statement also highlighted what it claimed were “abuses and direct targeting of the powers of the president.”
With hopes of a new government dashed, government and private sector trade unions called for a strike on Thursday to rescue Lebanon from the political deadlock and threat of economic collapse.
According to political observers, Aoun’s team prefers to keep the caretaker government in place to allow the country’s affairs to be run by the Baabda Palace and through the Supreme Defense Council, chaired by Aoun.
MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar told Arab News: “We are going through a very difficult stage. The president and the FPM do not value the constitution and are insisting on obstructing the formation of the government, taking the Lebanese people hostage for their personal interests.”
He said that it is clear Aoun and his political team want a government that is subject to their decisions until presidential elections are held.
Al-Hajjar said that Hezbollah “is standing idly by and this is unacceptable.”
He added that Hezbollah could “facilitate the formation of the government by putting pressure on its ally, but it has another agenda.”
Meanwhile, Charles Jabbour, head of the Lebanese Forces’ Media and Communication Service, said that while Hezbollah wants to protect its ally Aoun and his political team, the FPM is dissatisfied with Hezbollah’s position.
“This was revealed by direct statements made by FPM officials against Hezbollah,” he said.
Jabbour said that Hezbollah is “no longer a major force in this field. It is politically paralyzed and unable to do anything.”
However, he voiced concerns that the political impasse would worsen.
“There is a struggle over power and political positions, and cooperation with Aoun’s team is impossible,” he said.