Lebanese President Michel Aoun said yesterday he was intervening in stalled efforts to form a new national unity government, warning that the country faced "catastrophe" if this failed. With more than six months since an election, efforts to form the new Cabinet led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri are still logjammed, with rival groups vying for cabinet posts.
Aoun said the challenges in the government formation could not be resolved "the traditional way" between the prime minister-designate and the other parties, and it was his duty to get involved.
"The risks are greater than we can bear," he said, in an apparent reference to difficulties facing the heavily indebted Lebanese economy. "We are launching an initiative... and it has to succeed, because if it doesn't... there is a catastrophe, we want to say it with all frankness, and this is the reason for my intervention," Aoun said in a televised news conference, as reported by Reuters. Aoun held separate meetings with Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Monday.
Lebanon has suffered spasms of political crisis and violence since the 1975-90 civil war. Hariri leads a caretaker government but has been unable to form a cabinet since a May parliamentary election, with factions at odds over the division of posts. Hariri's Future Movement lost around a third of its seats on May 6, when Lebanon held its first legislative election in nine years and voters reinforced the weight of the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies.
Agreement over the make-up of the new cabinet has met a series of obstacles as Hariri has sought to forge a deal parceling out 30 cabinet posts among rival groups according to a sectarian political system.
The final hurdle has been over Sunni representation, with the powerful Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah demanding a cabinet seat for one of its Sunni allies who gained ground in the election.
Lebanon is in dire need of a government able to implement the economic reforms the IMF says are needed to put its public debt on a sustainable path. Lebanon has the world's third largest public debt as a proportion of the economy, and growth is stagnant. Analysts believe one compromise could be for Aoun to nominate one of the Hezbollah-aligned Sunnis, or a figure acceptable to them, among a group of ministers named by the president.