Bassil says he still wants Hariri as prime minister

The leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian political party said on Sunday that he still wanted Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri to form a new government, and blamed political opponents for months of political paralysis.

Lebanese politicians have been arguing over the structure of a new government since the last one resigned following the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020, leaving the country adrift as it sank from more and more in the economic crisis.

Veteran Sunni Muslim politician Hariri was appointed prime minister for the fourth time in October, promising to form a cabinet of specialists to enact the reforms needed to unlock foreign aid, but the process has stalled due to ministerial appointments .

“We want a government today, not tomorrow and with the leadership of Saad al-Hariri,” Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian bloc, said in a televised address on Sunday.

Bassil, who is also President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, said his bloc had made concessions but opponents were pushing to prevent the president from appointing a single minister.

He called on the leader of the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement, Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, to intervene.

Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, is a political ally of Basil’s party. He has repeatedly called for the formation of a government, urging everyone involved to offer concessions.

“I want Nasrallah to be a judge because I trust him and his honesty,” Bassil said. “He knows how much we have conceded on the formation of the cabinet.”

Bassil was hit by US sanctions last year for alleged corruption and his links to Hezbollah. The European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Saturday that the bloc could also impose sanctions on Lebanese political leaders if they fail to break the government deadlock, although he did not name anyone.

The political stalemate has prevented Lebanon from launching reforms that potential donors say are a precondition for aid. Meanwhile, foreign supplies are running out and fuel shortages, blackouts and shortages of medical supplies are on the rise.

In a sectarian power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Bassil said some politicians were trying to freeze Aoun completely, preventing him from choosing a minister and turning the president into “a picture on the wall … to be smashed if necessary”.

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