Lebanon's former president and Speaker in new war of words

Michel Aoun and Nabih Berri each accuse the other of political obstruction

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Lebanon’s former president Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri are embroiled in a new war of words, with each accusing the other of obstructionist policies.

Mr Aoun, an 89-year-old former army general whose presidential term finished at the end of October, said in an interview this week that Mr Berri was one of the key obstructers during his six years in office.

“All that I know is that Speaker Berri was against my election as president and he obstructed 18 files that I was working on,” he told the OTV channel, which is close to the Free Patriotic Movement political party founded by Mr Aoun and now led by his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil.

In response, Mr Berri said: “You did not need anyone to obstruct you, seeing as you promised us hell and fully fulfilled your promise.”

Mr Berri, 84, heads the Amal Movement, a major political party, and has served as Speaker for three decades.

“Seventy-four laws were issued without being implemented,” Mr Berri said.

The Lebanese parliament approves laws and then they are signed off before being implemented.

A source close to Mr Berri confirmed to The National that he was referring to the requirement for the president to sign off on laws passed by parliament before they can be implemented.

The Amal Movement was a powerful militia during the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, when Mr Aoun served as the army commander.

In Lebanon’s confessional power sharing system, the president is a Maronite Christian, the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim, and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Parliament is deeply fractured, with no bloc able to claim a majority after elections earlier this year. The house has met 10 times to elect a new president but has so far failed, with no clear consensus candidate yet to emerge.

And while the cabinet is supposed to take on presidential powers in the event of a vacuum — as has happened many times before — Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s cabinet is in caretaker mode and its powers are therefore severely diminished.

Mr Aoun and Mr Mikati were at loggerheads for months over the make-up of Lebanon's cabinet, and failed to reach agreement before the former stepped down as head of state.

In an interview with The National in October, Mr Bassil — who has also clashed with Mr Berri — said Mr Mikati “has no right to impose on the president a government of his own, that has no confidence from the parliament, that is not in alignment with the last parliamentary elections”.

The governance vacuum is increasing fears of further political paralysis and that reforms needed to secure a bail-out from the International Monetary Fund will not be implemented.

Lebanon's economic collapse has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history, with much of the population pushed into poverty.

The financial crisis is being blamed on decades of mismanagement and corruption by Lebanon’s elite.

The local currency has lost more than 95 per cent of its value, inflation is rampant and there are widespread shortages of electricity, clean water, medicines and other basic essentials.

Updated: December 30, 2022, 1:56 PM
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