Saad Hariri steps down after Lebanon Cabinet attempt fails

Wrangling over the country's Cabinet line-up continues

Lebanon's prime minister-designate stepped down on Thursday after his last-ditch effort to form a government failed amid disagreements with the president over the Cabinet's make-up.

Saad Hariri said he was stepping down after President Michel Aoun’s dismissal of his latest proposal to form a Cabinet of 24 non-partisan experts that denies any one group in government a veto.

“It is clear that we will not be able to agree with the president,” Mr Hariri said, immediately before announcing his decision to abandon his attempt to form a Cabinet after a brief meeting with the president.

“God help Lebanon,” Mr Hariri said as he left the presidential palace.

Mr Hariri’s withdrawal opens the door for the parliamentary majority – currently held by the president, the Iran-backed Hezbollah and their allies – to nominate a new prime minister, unless there is wide-ranging agreement on a successor.

Such an agreement has yet to be reached, former MP Mustapha Allouch, a member of Mr Hariri’s Future Movement, told The National.

“It all depends on discussions in coming days,” Mr Allouch said. The Future Movement, he said, was still keen on facilitating the formation of a Cabinet despite Mr Hariri’s decision to step down.

Mr Hariri later said he won't nominate a candidate for the post of prime minister but won't block the formation of cabinet.

The president’s office said Mr Aoun will schedule binding parliamentary consultations to name a new premier “as soon as possible”, describing Mr Hariri’s latest Cabinet line-up as an attempt to justify his pre-arranged withdrawal.

Mr Hariri said nine months of negotiations with the president hit a dead-end after Mr Aoun requested fundamental changes to his latest Cabinet proposal.

Mr Aoun, on the other hand, said Mr Hariri has refused to discuss amendments to a line-up he dictated without consulting with the country’s major political parties to eventually secure a vote of confidence in parliament.

Mr Hariri had accused the president of blocking the formation of a Cabinet in which the party Mr Aoun founded and is currently led by his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, lacks veto power. The president has denied the accusations, arguing that Mr Hariri was seeking to dictate the line-up in breach of the constitution.

The political paralysis is compounding one of the worst economic and financial crises to hit the country since late 2019. Since then, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 95 per cent of its value while more than half the population now lives in poverty.

Shortly after Mr Hariri announced his resignation, the Lebanese pound registered a record low of 20,500 against the dollar, sparking sporadic protests across the country over deteriorating living conditions.

The deepening economic crisis recently led members of the European Union to threaten Lebanon’s officials with sanctions in coming weeks for blocking the formation of a Cabinet that would undertake reforms in exchange for international financial support.

The international community have said financial support is contingent on the government’s implementation of long-sought reforms to fight corruption and restart the economy.

Barring urgent action to tackle the crisis, Lebanon’s woes are expected to worsen, financial experts say.

“Without a solid government action plan to urgently enact reforms and engage the International Monetary Fund, Lebanon’s economic and financial woes will deepen,” Saeb El Zein, an emerging markets specialist and former managing director of several investment funds, told The National.

“That would translate into more shortages in vital commodities, a further deterioration in the pound exchange rate and an increase in the number of people living [below] the poverty line,” Mr El Zein said.

“In a nutshell, Lebanon risks plunging into social unrest if the deadlock persists.”

Updated: July 15th 2021, 8:11 PM
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