Hezbollah leader to Hariri: form a ‘political government’

If the prime minister fails to form new Cabinet, the caretaker government should be re-instated, he says

epa08446185 A handout TV grab made available by Hezbollah's al-Manar TV shows Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah giving a speech during an interview with Al-Nour Radio and Al-Manar TV on the 20th anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, in Beirut, Lebanon, 26 May 2020.  EPA/AL-MANAR TV GRAB HANDOUT  HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri must abandon plans to form a government of experts and include political groups instead, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday.

Lebanon's political elite is widely accused of corruption and mismanaging the country for decades, leading to a severe economic crisis.

“A government of experts that is not protected by political forces will be unable to save the country,” Mr Nasrallah said.

“You should form a political government.”

A Cabinet of experts able to undertake serious economic reforms is needed for Lebanon to access billions of dollars in loans from international lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund, at a time of financial collapse.

Iran-backed Hezbollah wields great influence over political life in Lebanon and Mr Nasrallah's insistence on a politically backed Cabinet may hinder Lebanon's chances of accessing much-needed debt relief.

A reformist government is also a prerequisite for a French-led initiative to support the Lebanese economy after a devastating blast struck Beirut port last August, killing more than 200 people, injuring more than 6,500 and destroying half of the Lebanese capital.

Lebanon has been run by a caretaker government since Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the explosion, as political leaders bicker over their sectarian share of the next Cabinet.

Lebanon's economic crisis deepened after two months of a strict coronavirus lockdown that is scheduled to end next week.

The Lebanese pound is officially pegged at 1,507.5 to the dollar but it tumbled to 15,000 this week, slashing the purchasing power of Lebanese and their salaries.

Economic collapse wasmet with political inaction despite renewed protests against deteriorating living conditions.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Mr Hariri met on Thursday to discuss government formation for the 17th time since he took office, with no breakthrough in sight. Mr Hariri said the pair will meet again on Monday.

If they fail to agree on a new government, Mr Nasrallah said there needs to be a "constitutional solution" to prevent political deadlocks or that the caretaker government should be re-instated.

Excluding sectarian politicians from government was a popular demand of the mass anti-government protest movement that took Lebanon by storm in October 2019, forcing Mr Hariri to resign from his third term as prime minister. Mr Nasrallah strongly opposed the protesters.

Mr Diab’s government, which succeeded Mr Hariri's, is supposed to be comprised of non-affiliated experts, but it is backed by Hezbollah and its ministers were picked by the group and its allies.

“Your ethical, patriotic and humanitarian duty, Mr Diab, is to re-instate the caretaker government and take responsibility,” Mr Nasrallah said.