The Long-Awaited Formation of a New Government in Lebanon
After a nine-month deadlock it was announced on January 31 by Prime Minister Saad Hariri that Lebanon formed a new government. Hariri has been negotiating with Lebanon’s rival parties since the parliamentary elections last May. The political system that is based on a power-sharing agreement between religious groups lies at the heart of this long process. The main obstacles concerned the Iran-backed Hezbollah group gaining ground in the government and therefore appointing key ministries which would enlarge their sphere of influence. During these months of bargaining protest grew about economic collapse, because a government was needed to attract foreign investments and to implement economic reforms. Finally Hariri, together with President Aoun, emphasized the need for cooperation between all ministries with their different believes and values to take up the current challenges together for the heavily indebted Lebanese state.
The road of formation
The elections held in May 2018 brought a defeat to the Future Movement of Sunni Hariri, where Hezbollah and its allies gained a majority of seats. At first, Hariri wanted all Sunni ministers to be followers of his own party, but in the end he had to give in to a settlement. Hariri is seen as the pro-Western leader of many Lebanese Sunnis and therefore as one of the main bulwarks against Hezbollah’s influence on Lebanon. However, the new formation of the government meant a new allocation of ministries where Hezbollah now was, due to its enlarged influence, designated to appoint a new ministry. The new 30-member cabinet finally came into being when the political blocs agreed on a new arrangement of the ministry positions. Hezbollah ally Gebran Nassil will retain the Foreign Ministry while Ali Hassan Khalil, from Hezbollah’s ally Amal, will continue as finance minister. Moreover, against the will of the United States, Hezbollah appointed Shia doctor Jamil Jabak as health minister. He therefore got beyond the marginal role he used to play before, with the health ministry being the fourth-biggest in the state-apparatus. Another demand from Hezbollah was to give one of the six Sunnis that were backed by the group a position in the cabinet. After a long time of protest, Hariri finally gave the post of minister of state to Hasan Mrad, representative of a pro-Syria Sunni group that is backed by Hezbollah.
It now seems that Hezbollah and its allies control political power and therefore the influence of Iran and the Syrian government in Lebanon is enlarged. Before the elections in May, the U.S. had placed a veto on any qualitative or quantitative increase in Hezbollah’s share in the new formation. Increase would mean a reaction of total American boycott by means of sanctions on institutions governed by Hezbollah, together with a freeze of US planned aid to the Lebanese army. The U.S. fears that Hezbollah will use funds from the large budget of the Ministry of Health to its fighters and supporters. High Representative of the European Union Federica Mogherini described the news of a new formation as “very welcome” and as a crucial step for Lebanon’s stability. She addressed in her statement the need for reforms as well as the political and financial support from the EU towards the country.
Progressive Socialist Party
Leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt blamed several pro-Syria politicians of hindering the formation of a new government. Jumblatt also accused foreign minister Bassil of “challenging the Taef Accord” and “playing with fire” after he laid out his main ideas for the new government’s policy. Moreover, Jumblatt speaks of unilateralism in the formation as if there was no premier at all. However, he stated that he would not withdraw his ministers from the new cabinet. Instead, he will pursue a policy of “confrontation”. Jumblatt expressed the wish to ask President Aoun as well as Hariri about the fate of the Taef Accord, the agreement that ended the civil war in 1989. He stated that if Hariri wants to renounce the Taef Accord, a major crisis will affect the country. Hariri responded to Jumblatt by stating that these comments are attempts to detract attention from the problems these groups are facing and the concessions they had to offer within the new government.