Lebanon’s major political forces have yet to engage in discussions to nominate a new prime minister, sources told The National on Friday, a day after Saad Hariri abandoned efforts to form a Cabinet amid persistent disagreements with the president over its makeup.
“No discussions are under way as of yet,” a source briefed on the matter said, noting that talks are expected to gain momentum once the president sets binding parliamentary consultations to nominate a new prime minister-designate.
A source close to President Michel Aoun told The National that consultations are “likely to take place” after the Eid El Adha holiday on July 21-22.
Mr Hariri's withdrawal prompted his supporters to set up roadblocks for the second consecutive day in Beirut, Tripoli — the country's second most populous city — and the Bekaa region. Several were injured in clashes with the army, which was deployed to contain the protests.
Mr Hariri accused the president, a key ally of Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite party and armed group Hezbollah, of blocking the formation of a Cabinet of non-partisan experts, where Mr Aoun and his son-in-law, the leader of the largest parliamentary bloc, lack veto power.
He said his proposed Cabinet was in line with a French-sponsored international initiative to help Lebanon tackle its worst economic crisis in decades. The crisis, which unfolded in late 2019, has plunged more than half the population into poverty and disrupted vital industries amid increasing shortages in fuel and medication.
Hours after announcing his withdrawal, Mr Hariri said he would refrain from nominating a candidate for the post of prime minister, raising concerns of further political paralysis that would exacerbate Lebanon’s financial meltdown.
Under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, the post of prime minister is held by a Sunni Muslim, while the president is a Christian and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite.
Mr Hariri, however, left the door open for negotiations with his political rivals over the Cabinet’s makeup while blaming Mr Aoun and Hezbollah for the political deadlock.
“The president doesn’t want to form a Cabinet. When the latter decides on the date of [parliamentary] consultations, I will engage my allies in discussions to decide on future steps,” the Future Movement leader said.
Mr Hariri stepped down on Thursday after Mr Aoun dismissed 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 shortly before announcing his decision.
His withdrawal paves the way for the parliamentary majority, led by Mr Aoun, Hezbollah and their allies, to nominate a new prime minister, barring a wide-ranging political agreement over a successor.
Hezbollah’s ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, had led such efforts by engaging Mr Hariri in negotiations to nominate a successor before the latter officially announced that his nine month-long discussions with the president had hit a dead end.
But Mr Berri’s efforts to secure an agreement failed to bear fruit by the time Mr Hariri, his long-time ally, decided to step down. The speaker’s support for Mr Hariri in his months-long negotiations deepened the rift between the president and Mr Berri, who had opposed Mr Aoun’s presidential bid.
A source familiar with the negotiations that preceded Mr Hariri’s withdrawal said that seeking a successor who fails to receive Mr Hariri's backing would complicate talks and hinder a political breakthrough.
On Thursday night, Mr Hariri thanked Mr Berri for his efforts while taking aim at the president and Hezbollah for undermining Lebanon’s ties with its traditional Arab allies.
“It is naive for some to think that Saudi Arabia has a problem with Hariri. The main problem is Michel Aoun and his alliance with Hezbollah,” Mr Hariri said.
The kingdom, which has been wary of Hezbollah’s growing dominion over the Lebanese government in recent years, has scaled down its support for the tiny Mediterranean nation after decades of warm business and investment ties.
Saudi officials, along with their western allies, led by the US and France, now say financial support is contingent on the implementation of reforms to tackle corruption, illegal smuggling and drug trafficking that lately prompted the kingdom to ban imports from Lebanon.
France said on Friday that it will host an aid conference organised with the support of the UN to “respond to the needs of the Lebanese whose situation is deteriorating every day".
The conference will take place on August 4, on the anniversary of the Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and caused billions of dollars in property losses.
The blast forced Hassan Diab's resignation as prime minister shortly after, leaving Lebanon without a functioning government despite threats by France and its allies to slap sanctions on Lebanese officials seen to be obstructing the formation of a new government.