| 15 April 2024, Monday |

Hezbollah, Amal call for speedy government formation to curb economic collapse

The Amal Movement and Hezbollah have plead for the speedy formation of a new government capable of saving Lebanon from total economic collapse that is threatening the Lebanese with poverty and hunger.

The two main Shiite parties’ plea comes as the already stalled Cabinet formation process remains at a dead end following the failure of local and Arab mediation attempts to break the deadlock, which has entered its eighth month with no solution in sight.

In a statement issued after a joint meeting of the Hezbollah and Amal commands in south Lebanon Tuesday, the two parties underlined the “need to immediately act to eliminate all obstacles that are preventing the formation of a government capable of rescuing Lebanon from drifting toward all-out collapse and also achieving reforms, fighting corruption and fulfilling the aspirations of the Lebanese for the rise of a state of law and institutions away from the logic of narrow, personal and individual interests.”

A similar appeal for the formation of a “rescue government” capable of taking decisions was issued Wednesday by the council of Maronite Catholic patriarchs and archbishops after an extraordinary meeting chaired by Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai at his seat in Bkirki, northeast of Beirut. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Youssef Absi also attended the meeting.

In an opening speech, Rai renewed his call for Lebanon’s neutrality and for holding an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations to resolve the deepening economic and political crises.

“Since Lebanon has lost its internal and external sovereignty and the Lebanese political forces have become unable to sit together, we have demanded holding an international conference on Lebanon under the sponsorship of the UN Organization,” Rai said, adding: “In the face of the current crisis situation, the bishops called for the formation of a rescue government capable of making decisions and working.”

A statement issued after the meeting said the participants were pained by the “hunger, deprivation, poverty and unemployment facing Lebanese citizens, not only because of the coronavirus pandemic, but in particular because of the absence of an effective rescue government that is free from partisan and political interference.”

“A rescue government is urgently needed to carry out reforms, fight corruption, achieve a forensic audit [of the Central Bank’s accounts] through an independent judiciary, stimulate the economy with all its sectors, revive the banking sector and ensure the depositors’ money and the freedom to use it,” the statement said.

The patriarchs condemned the state institutions’ negligence in dealing with the repercussions of last year’s massive explosion that pulverized Beirut Port, killed over 211 people and left entire neighborhoods in the capital in ruins.

They called on all Lebanese, particularly political leaders, to rise above their personal interests and enter into “a dialogue of love, frankness, forgiveness and reconciliation.” They supported Rai’s call for declaring Lebanon’s “active neutrality” and for convening an international conference to resolve the Lebanese crisis.

Lebanon is in the throes of a crippling economic and financial crisis that is posing the gravest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 Civil War. The Lebanese pound has been in a free fall since October 2019, losing over 90 percent of its value, pushing more than half of Lebanon’s six million population into poverty and unemployment.

The separate pleas issued by the Amal and Hezbollah and the Maronite patriarchs come as Lebanon’s rival leaders did not heed repeated Arab and foreign appeals, including those made by the United States, Russia and France, to agree on the swift formation of a government of nonpartisan specialists to implement essential reforms in line with the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon from its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War and avert a much-feared social implosion.

Implementation of long-overdue reforms is deemed crucial for unlocking billions of dollars in promised foreign aid to the cash-strapped country, which is wrestling with multiple crises, including an unprecedented financial downturn.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt, who has repeatedly called for compromise between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over the Cabinet formation, warned of the fall of the temple in the absence of a fully functioning government to tackle a series of crises.

“It seems that the regional struggle is escalating over Lebanon, making local cocks fight each other, while paying no need to the reputation of institutions and their sanctity,” Joumblatt tweeted. He was clearly referring to the raging row between Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun and the Higher Judicial Council after Aoun last week stormed a money exchange company in defiance of the state prosecutor’s decision banning her from investigating financial crimes and transfer of money abroad.

“In this respect, it is duty bound to fortify the Army, neutralize it and support it materially and morally. The main step is by halting subsidies to merchants and issuing ration cards to citizens before the fall of the temple,” Joumblatt added.

The Higher Judicial Council, which met Tuesday and summoned Aoun to remind her of the need to obey the state prosecutor’s decision banning her from tackling financial cases. The council, the country’s highest judicial body, referred Aoun’s case to the Judicial Inspection Authority.

However, Aoun, escorted by activists from the Free Patriotic Movement, Wednesday again stormed the Mecattaf money exchange company in Awkar, north of Beirut, defying the HJC’s decision.

Aoun, aligned with the FPM, who stormed the Mecattaf company twice last week, argued that she was investigating the company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing millions of dollars from the market and shipping them abroad.

Expressing support for Aoun’s action, the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc said in a statement issued after its weekly online meeting chaired by MP Gebran Bassil Tuesday: “Preventing a judge pursuing the people’s cases from continuing investigation into the open files amounts to an offense against the Lebanese and raises questions about the underlying reason behind this political, judicial, media, financial and security assault against a judge who is performing his duties.”

The bloc also criticized Hariri over the delay in the formation of a new government.

“The Lebanese are still waiting for the prime minister-designate to come up with a methodical Cabinet formula clearly showing the distribution of portfolios among sects and the nomination references. This should be done within the criteria of competence and specialization without any partisan belonging. Anything short of that indicates there is no decision to form a government in Lebanon,” the statement said.

The bloc rejected accusations by Hariri and Future Movement officials that Aoun’s and Bassil’s insistence on gaining a blocking one-third [veto power] was blocking the formation of a Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists to be tasked with implementing a reform program contained in the French initiative.

The Cabinet crisis comes as the European Union, backed by France, was preparing to set up a mechanism for sanctions as part of stepped-up pressure on Lebanese politicians to form a new government.

The EU foreign ministers, who met in Brussels Monday, discussed among other things, the Lebanese Cabinet crisis and possible punitive measures against those obstructing the government formation.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the EU’s High Representative for foreign and security policy Josep Borrell distributed to member states an options paper to deal with the Lebanese crisis.

If a government is not formed, sanctions would be put in place in two stages. First, setting up a sanctions regime for Lebanon and second, listing the targeted names who are obstructing the [Cabinet] formation on the sanctions list, the statement said.

Dimming hopes for an early solution to the crisis is that Aoun and Hariri, who are constitutionally mainly responsible for the Cabinet formation, have not been on speaking terms since their last meeting on March 22 that failed to resolve their deepening rift which for more than eight months has left Lebanon without a fully empowered government to cope with multiple crises.