Lebanon caretaker cabinet convenes amid boycott by FPM

Lebanon caretaker cabinet convenes amid boycott by FPM
The Free Patriotic Movement called Wednesday's cabinet meeting "unconstitutional".
3 min read
19 January, 2023
In the wake of the political infighting, Lebanese citizens have had to live with even less electricity than usual. [Getty]

Lebanon's caretaker cabinet convened on Wednesday to discuss funding for fuel imports, amid a split between cabinet members over the extent of the caretaker's government’s powers.

The cabinet allocated $116 million to pay for two ships carrying fuel and the funds for the maintenance of the country’s ageing power plants, alleviating a weeks-long energy crisis which saw state electricity plants shut due to lack of fuel.

The meeting was boycotted by members of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), including the Minister of Energy himself. The FPM has said that it does not believe the cabinet has the power to meet while it is in a caretaker status.

"There is a big division over the constitutionality of a caretaker government being able to meet in a presidential vacancy period, and this is the behind the decision of boycott," Alain Aoun, an FPM MP representing Baabda, told The New Arab.

The FPM put out a statement prior to the cabinet meeting saying it was "unconstitutional."

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Lebanon has been without a president since November, with the country's parliament failing to elect a candidate for the 11th time on Thursday morning.

The government has also been in a caretaker capacity since May 2022, after the caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati was unable to put together a new cabinet that would be approved by the then-president.

Lebanon's political blocs have thus far been unable to muster a majority vote for the president with little signs that progress is being made on deciding on a compromise leader.

Analysts have said the two most likely candidates for the presidency are Suleiman Frangieh, the pro-Hezbollah candidate, and General Joseph Aoun, the head of Lebanon’s armed forces who is close to the US.

The FPM is the Christian political ally of Hezbollah, but the two parties have differed on which presidential candidate they want to elect. FPM reportedly will not approve Frangieh and is seeking to find its own candidate.

"Unless flexibility is shown on each side, I don’t foresee a possibility to overcome this possibility. Both parties will be forced to find other paths and understandings with other parties … before trying to bridge up again," Aoun said.

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The tension between the two blocs ratcheted up this week over the spat over cabinet powers, as Hezbollah supported the meeting in defiance of its ally.

Last week, Michel Aoun, former president and the founder of the FPM reportedly threatened to do away with the Mar Mikhael agreement which governs the terms of the Hezbollah-FPM partnership. Aoun’s media office denied he threatened to do so.

In a conciliatory gesture, the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech on Tuesday that the cabinet meeting would only discuss the electricity issue.

Analysts have said that tensions between the two political blocs will most likely worsen as Gebran Bassil’s political ambitions collide with Hezbollah's priorities.

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"Hezbollah wants a president they can trust. They know if Gebran Bassil becomes president, he will be more than eager to denounce Hezbollah if he gets US guarantees they will lift him from the sanctions list," Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told TNA.

In the meantime, living conditions in Lebanon continue to deteriorate in the wake of a government that can pass critical reforms.

On Thursday, the value of the currency hit 50,000 Lebanese lira to the dollar, an all-time low and a 97 per cent decrease from its value in 2019.