Lebanon: President calls for end to government paralysis

BEIRUT (AP) – The Lebanese President on Monday called for an end to an 11-week standoff that has prevented the government from meeting, further undermining state institutions in the country amid an economic collapse.

President Michel Aoun implicitly criticized his powerful ally Hezbollah for preventing the government from meeting, but did not name the Shiite group.

In an evening televised speech, Aoun also listed a litany of other obstacles that derailed necessary legislation and reforms, criticizing his longtime rival, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, but also without naming him.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government has been unable to meet since October 12 after Hezbollah and its allies demanded the impeachment of the senior judge investigating the massive explosion in the port of Beirut last year. Hezbollah accuses the judge of bias and his allies in government have refused to attend cabinet meetings until the government finds a way to remove him.

Aoun said he was unfairly criticized and his authority undermined when he couldn’t even force the Cabinet to meet.

“Paralyzing state institutions has become a norm and the result is the destruction of the state,” Aoun said. “In what law, logic or constitution is Cabinet hampered and called upon to make a decision that is not within its authority?”

Aoun said the government should meet as soon as possible to sort out the outstanding issues.

Mikati took office in September following a new impasse over the balance of power in the government that was to rule amid the crisis. Politicians are also divided on reform plans, negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and regional relations.

Hezbollah’s favorite candidate Aoun was elected president in 2016, holding a vacant post for more than two years. The Aoun-Hezbollah alliance was sealed in 2006 after his return from exile following the end of the civil war in Lebanon. Since taking office, the alliance has been put to the test as Aoun has faced an unprecedented economic crisis, wading through Lebanon’s often divisive sectarian politics.

His speech on Monday expressed frustration with the powerful ally, also questioning the goal of creating tensions with the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, followed by other Gulf countries, boycotted Lebanon in October following critical comments from a minister allied with Hezbollah. The minister refused to resign for weeks.

But Aoun, a former army general, did not publicly call Hezbollah, saying the alliance was holding. Aoun is in the last year of his six-year term.

Lebanon is in the throes of an economic crisis described as one of the worst in the world in the past 150 years. International financial institutions are calling it a deliberate depression accusing the political elite, in power for decades, of mismanaging the country’s resources.

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