December 24, 2018 / 7:54 AM / in 4 months

Lebanon's Berri says some parties do not want government formed - newspaper

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s parliament speaker said there are parties that do not want a new government, a newspaper reported on Monday, highlighting the obstacles that have derailed its formation after an agreement had seemed close.

FILE PHOTO: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri gestures at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

More than seven months since its last election, Lebanon, heavily indebted and suffering low economic growth, is in dire need of an administration to enact long-stalled reforms and put public debt on a sustainable footing.

Separately voicing his frustration at the crisis, Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch said in his Christmas address that politicians were “masters in creating problems and obstacles” and did not care about losses suffered by the state and people.

Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has been seeking to finalise a deal on a government that splits portfolios among rival groups according to a sectarian power sharing system.

A deal looked close last week when a mediation effort made headway towards resolving the last big problem over Sunni Muslim representation. Hariri said on Friday he hoped to finalise a deal later that day. But new complications surfaced on Saturday.

Speaker Nabih Berri told al-Akhbar: “What happened confirms there are parties that do not want the government to be born at all.” He expressed great concern regarding “what awaits the country in the coming period”.

Several hundred people demonstrated in Beirut on Sunday over the state of the economy and politics, briefly blocking several main roads. Some of them wore yellow vests inspired by the protests in France.

The dispute over Sunni representation emerged as a group of Sunni MPs backed by the Shi’ite group Hezbollah said they must be allocated a seat in cabinet to reflect their election gains and Hariri resisted their demand.

Under a compromise, the six pro-Hezbollah Sunnis agreed to be represented by another figure acceptable to them. Each of the six submitted a name from which President Michel Aoun picked one.

But on Saturday, the pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs withdrew their support for the Sunni candidate picked by Aoun - Jawad Adra - because he “did not consider himself an exclusive representative” of the six Sunni MPs.

That points to a row with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Lebanon’s biggest Christian party, which wants Adra to be part of its cabinet bloc. That would give the FPM and Aoun 11 of cabinet’s 30 seats and effective veto power.

Another row surrounds precisely which portfolios should go to which factions, though the ministries in question are not the most powerful.

Berri said: “The matter appears to be bigger than a blocking third, portfolios, and shares.”

Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai, in his televised address, said politicians were procrastinating. “They do not care about the great financial losses suffered by the Lebanese state and people,” he said. “Is this not a crime?”

“This is what stirred the anger of the people yesterday. They carried out rightful protests, the dangerous consequences of which nobody can tell if the politicians continue in their manoeuvring.”

Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams

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