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27 August 12:00 AM

Bassil hints at solution to latest disputeover

Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil Friday hinted at a possible solution to the new political rift that emerged this week over a disputed article in the 2019 state budget. Speaking during an event in Zahle attended by President Michel Aoun, Bassil, who is also the foreign minister, lashed out against Article 80 in the budget that was passed by Parliament last week. 

The article in question calls for the employment of applicants for state positions who have passed the Civil Service Board exams but have yet to be hired due to political squabbling over a sectarian imbalance between Christian and Muslim applicants.The article even prompted Aoun to delay signing the budget due to “confusion” regarding the matter, a statement from the presidency said.

Successful civil service applicants for a number of public institutions have been demanding to be appointed to their respective posts in recent years, but remain unemployed because of a sectarian imbalance.

There remains confusion over the matter on whether the article in question had been amended before or after Parliament’s vote.

According to a political source, the different sides had been aware of the article in the budget when it was passed in Parliament.

“What happened wasn’t simple,” Bassil said.

“We should be committed to removing Article 80 from the budget either by a law or by removing it from the next [2020] budget,” he said, referring to a possible solution.

Aoun has not yet signed the budget after it was inked by Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. If the president withholds his signature, it will delay implementation of the law by a month.

The new rift over Article 80 comes at a time when Cabinet sessions have yet to be held as the aftermath of the Aley shootout continues to drag on. Local media reported Friday that Hariri left the country on a visit.

The shootout in Qabr Shmoun left two men dead and others wounded. The two men, who were in the convoy of Minister of State for Refugee Affairs Saleh Gharib, were killed in clashes with the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. Gharib belongs to the PSP’s rival, the Lebanese Democratic Party.

While the LDP and its allies, the FPM and Hezbollah, have called for the incident to be referred to the Judicial Council, Berri, Hariri, the PSP and the Lebanese Forces are opposed to this, arguing that the case could be handled by other courts.The case has been officially referred to the Military Tribunal after the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch concluded its investigation. Nonetheless, Cabinet can still vote to refer it to the Judicial Council. 

Speaking in televised remarks, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Friday touched on the Cabinet deadlock, saying that Hezbollah was for a session being held as soon as possible to discuss the latest obstacle.

He underscored that the party supports holding a Cabinet session in which the Qabr Shmoun case would be discussed. “It isn’t something that can be ignored,” he said.

Nasrallah also launched an indirect jab at PSP leader Walid Joumblatt, who reportedly sees Hezbollah support for Arslan and his insistence on referring the case to the Judicial Council as a way to target him and undermine his position as a Druze leader.

Nasrallah said that Hezbollah’s alliances with others, including Arslan, aren’t one-sided.

“We respect our allies,” he said. “The misconception is that Hezbollah uses its allies that are of a certain sect in order to cause trouble within this sect.” Nasrallah added that it was Arslan’s call and his right to request that the case be referred to the Judicial Council since the issue affected his party directly.

“All we did was to tell him that it is [his] right ... but it was seen as if Hezbollah was targeting a certain leader. ... They are trying to pressure us to tell Arslan to change his position,” he said.

“If we have an issue and we want to confront someone we would do that directly. If Hezbollah has an issue, it will confront you directly and will not hide behind an ally. We have the courage to do that,” Nasrallah said, in an implicit reference to Joumblatt.

Moving to Parliament’s endorsement of the 2019 state budget, Nasrallah said that Hezbollah’s Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc voted with the budget given the tough economic situation in the country.

He noted that Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee, which was tasked with discussing the budget before sending it to the full house of Parliament, took into consideration some of the remarks that the bloc had on the budget. 

“There was a lot of seriousness in Cabinet and Parliament in their approach to the budget, and the talks were very detailed,” he said. 

He also responded to claims that Hezbollah controls Lebanon, saying it is the “biggest lie” and used to instigate foreign countries against Lebanon.

Nasrallah said that this accusation was made with the goal of blaming Hezbollah for all the problems facing the country.

“There is always someone who makes things look as if Hezbollah runs the country, the government and the state institutions. It is the biggest lie ... [because] what is happening in Lebanon is contrary to its will and to its vision,” he added.

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