Lebanon president says path clear for Cabinet formation

Michel Aoun hopes for 'white smoke' soon

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Lebanon’s president said on Saturday he was hopeful a Cabinet would be formed soon to tackle the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.

“The path to forming a government is clear, and I hope that 'white smoke' will come out soon,” Michel Aoun said, referring to the sign used by the Vatican to indicate that a new pope has been elected.

His remarks come days after prime minister-designate Najib Mikati said a draft Cabinet arrangement was being discussed and that talks were on the “right track”.

Mr Mikati, a billionaire businessman and former prime minister, was nominated in July to form a Cabinet that the international community says must enact reforms before global financial support is unlocked.

His predecessor, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, gave up after nine months of disagreements with Mr Aoun over the Cabinet’s make-up.

Mr Hariri, the country’s top Sunni politician, later backed Mr Mikati for the post.

Mr Mikati has met Mr Aoun regularly in an attempt to finalise the make-up of the government.

Lebanon's year-long political paralysis since the resignation of current caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab's government has exacerbated an economic crisis, leading to shortages in fuel and vital commodities.

Earlier this week, the central bank announced it would stop subsidising fuel purchases and sell dollars to importers at the market rate.

An Energy Ministry official told The National it was waiting for Banque du Liban to set the exchange rate for future fuel purchases before it announced a revised price list.

Fuel importers have halted deliveries pending new prices being issued and pumps across the country have closed.

On Saturday, the central bank governor defended his decision to halt fuel subsidies that have drained currency reserves.

He said the government could resolve the problem by passing legislation allowing the central bank to use its mandatory reserves.

Fuel shortages led to power cuts that forced many retail outlets across Beirut to close at the weekend.

Security forces on Saturday penalised petrol stations that stopped sales but were found to be holding stocks of previously purchased petrol and diesel.

Fuel importers were set to resume deliveries on Saturday, after the central bank agreed to maintain subsidies on the existing stock of fuel at 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Mr Diab described the subsidy cut as “illegal” but did not convene his caretaker Cabinet, arguing that the constitution did not allow for such meetings.

Lebanon has been without a government since the massive Beirut port blast that killed more than 200 people in August 2020 and forced Mr Diab to resign.

Updated: August 15, 2021, 7:02 AM