Berri Calls for Quick New Government
The formation of a new Cabinet in Lebanon that represents all factions should take place quickly because of growing regional tensions and the fragile country's struggling economy, Speaker Nabih Berri said.
Berri spoke in an interview with The Associated Press in his office in Beirut days after Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nine years. In the vote, Berri's Amal group, along with its allies including Hizbullah, won more than a third of the seats, giving them the power to veto any legislation against them in the future.
Berri, 80, has held his post for more than 25 years and is widely expected to be re-elected when the new parliament reconvenes later this month.
Lebanon has been suffering for years from spillover of Syria's seven-year civil war and the flow of more than a million refugees, or nearly a quarter of the tiny country's population, putting pressure on an already crumbling infrastructure.
On Friday, Berri received a big boost from Prime Minister Saad Hariri who named him as his candidate for the country's second top post that Berri has been holding since 1992. Support from Hariri, whose bloc has 21 seats of the 128-member legislature would guarantee that Berri is re-elected for the post that he has been holding since 1992.
Berri did not say who his candidate for prime minister is, since the government will have to resign within days following the elections. After the new parliament's four-year term begins on May 21 and a new parliament speaker is elected, President Michel Aoun will call for consultations with legislators to name their candidate for forming the new government.
"The situation around us (in the region) pushes the Lebanese to hurry as much as possible to form a Cabinet, a government that represents everyone," Berri said. Berri said that this is his opinion and that of Aoun and Hariri as well.
"The devil is in the details but we should hurry up," Berri said, adding that the formation of a Cabinet should not take months as in the past.
"It used to take us seven to eight months to form a Cabinet and this is dangerous," Berri said, mentioning tension on Syria's borders with Israel. "There is another war that we are fighting without noticing, and this is the economic war in Lebanon, and it has been ongoing for a while."
Lebanon has a national debt of $80 billion making it one of the highest in the world, standing at 150 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Berri said that Lebanese authorities should have direct contacts with the Syrian government so that refugees start heading back to their country, criticizing anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians who refuse any dealings with the Syrian government.
Berri referred to last month's return of hundreds of Syrian refugees to Syria after government forces retook areas they came from.
"This makes Syrians who are returning to their country happy and also reduces pressure on the Lebanese," Berri said. "This should be going on daily basis. We should not say that we do not contact the Syrian brothers," Berri said.
"There should be always contacts between the Lebanese and Syrian governments," said Berri, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. "Such contacts are for the good of Lebanon."