BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement and the Future Movement in Lebanon have engaged in a new bout of mud-slinging over the formation of a new cabinet as the two sides accused each other of lying over the already-stalled process.
The weekend exchange of harsh rhetoric between the two rival parties, which has become a weekly occurrence, has cast gloom on Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s attempts to form a cabinet of nonpartisan technocrats desperately needed to enact urgent reforms and rescue the crises-stricken country from an all-out financial meltdown that is threatening the Lebanese with hunger and poverty.
The mounting rift between the two bickering parties comes against the backdrop of the failure of local and Arab mediation attempts to break the stalemate.
In an escalatory tone, MP Gebran Bassil, head of the FPM’s 24-member Strong Lebanon bloc, the largest in Parliament with the biggest Christian representation, accused Hariri of dragging his feet over the formation of a government and went as far as calling for Parliament’s resignation as the only way to revoke Hariri’s designation.
In a televised speech Saturday addressing the Lebanese, Bassil reiterated his call on Hariri to present Lebanese President Michel Aoun with a new cabinet lineup. He accused the PM-designate of seeking to gain the support of half members of cabinet ministers plus one with the aim of controlling the government’s decisions.
Bassil’s remarks drew a harsh response from the Future Movement which struck back at the FPM leader, saying his goal to force Hariri to resign was like the “devil’s dream of entering paradise.”
“Gebran Bassil has succeeded once again in obtaining a certificate of high distinction in sabotaging the mandate of his father-in-law Michel Aoun and stripping him of the character of the strong mandate,” the Future Movement said in a statement Saturday.
It noted that Bassil’s sole preoccupation was to maintain his position in the political equation, even if this meant sacrificing the president’s mandate and political security and stability.
“His [Bassil’s] latest appearance, to a large extent, is similar to Judge Ghada Aoun during her latest raid in Awkar,” the statement said, referring to Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun who last week twice stormed a money exchange company in defiance of the state prosecutor’s decision dismissing her from probing financial crimes and transfer of money abroad.
In his speech, Bassil strongly defended Aoun’s action, saying the judge was trying to recover the money of the Lebanese people that had been smuggled out of the country in an “immoral manner.”
Blaming Bassil and the FPM for the country’s corruption as well as economic and political collapse, the Future statement said: “Lies are a trait of liars and those hunted by sanctions from inside and outside [the country] Gebran. Your bet on withdrawing the PM-designate from the cabinet formation equation and your saying that this matter requires Parliament’s resignation and going to early elections are like the devil’s betting on entering paradise. Probably, the shortest road to this is the president’s resignation whereby constitutional rules become equal.”
Last November, the United States imposed sanctions on Bassil for corruption and ties with Hezbollah, long labeled a “terrorist” organization by Washington.
Hariri has accused Aoun and the FPM of blocking the formation of a government of nonpartisan technocrats to enact reforms contained in the French initiative with their insistence on gaining a blocking one-third [veto power].
However, Bassil denied that either the FPM or his father-in-law, Aoun, was seeking to gain veto power in the new cabinet.
“Do you know why they [Hariri and allies] want half [of cabinet members] plus one in the government? Because they want to control its decisions. They are secretly seeking half [of cabinet members] plus one by accusing us of [seeking] one-third [of ministers] plus one,” Bassil said. “We have never proposed in this government the issue of one-third plus one.”
He reiterated that the FPM would not participate in the government, noting that Aoun had issued 6 statements announcing that he did not want one-third plus one. “They [Hariri and allies] are bent on telling the states that we and the president want one-third [of cabinet members]. They are lying,” Bassil said.
Bassil also accused Hariri of lying when he insists on a government made up of specialists without politicians. “The head of a cabinet, who has no specialization, wants to head a cabinet of specialists. The leader of a political movement wants to head a cabinet that does not include any politician,” he said.
The FPM leader said one of the major problems obstructing the cabinet formation was who would name the Christian ministers. He renewed his call on Hariri to come up with a new cabinet lineup to the president.
Referring to Hariri’s refusal to meet him, Bassil said: “The prime minister does not want to talk with us. We do not want to be in the government.”