Parliamentary consultations to designate a new prime minister and Cabinet are set to begin next Monday, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Monday.
Appointed last October, veteran politician and prime minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down last Thursday amid deep disagreements with Mr Aoun over how to allocate ministerial posts.
The presidential palace said in a statement that Mr Aoun will meet former prime ministers, including Mr Hariri, Najib Mikati and Tammam Salam, next Monday morning.
Mr Aoun will then receive delegations of members of Parliament from various parliamentary blocs to discuss who should be Lebanon’s next prime minister.
Vice-president of Parliament Elie Ferzli told The National that Mr Mikati was currently the top choice among political parties. "Mikati is in the first place but no decision has been taken yet," he said.
One of Lebanon's richest men, Mr Mikati has served twice as prime minister in the past two decades.
Former MP Mustapha Allouch, a member of Mr Hariri’s Future Movement, confirmed that the party would not nominate a candidate but would cooperate with the future government, echoing Mr Hariri's statements last week. "The whole country in a weak position irrespective of Saad Hariri or otherwise," he said.
The continued failure to agree on a Cabinet has left Lebanon rudderless during a crushing economic crisis exacerbated by Covid-19 and the Beirut port blast, which killed more than 200 people and destroyed large parts of the capital last August.
The acute economic and financial crisis has caused power cuts and fuel shortages unseen since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war. The Lebanese pound’s market value is now worth less than one tenth of the official peg.
The withdrawal of Mr Hariri, who is Lebanon’s most influential Sunni Muslim leader, also increased social unrest, with several reported wounded in clashes in Lebanon’s two biggest cities — the capital Beirut and Tripoli — as well as in the Bekaa region between his supporters and the Lebanese Army.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described Mr Hariri’s move as “yet another disappointing development for the Lebanese people".
Western governments have been piling pressure on Lebanese politicians to form a government that can set about reforming the state, which is widely viewed as corrupt. France and the EU have threatened sanctions and said financial support will not flow before reforms begin.
Spurred by the economic crisis, nation-wide anti-government protests shook the country for several months in late 2019 before petering out.
But smaller protests and strikes have picked up in recent months as the cash-strapped government lifts subsidies on an impoverished population. Local media reported that on Monday, truck drivers blocked the entrance to the southern coastal city Saida to protest fuel shortages and rapid inflation.
Over half of the Lebanese population lives in poverty, according to the UN.