Lebanon's ex-PM Saad Hariri 'not likely to run' in coming election

Country's leading Sunni politician to give a speech this afternoon

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri greets supporters during a rally outside his house in downtown Beirut. EPA

Latest updates: Saad Hariri steps down

Three-time Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri is expected to announce on Monday that he will not stand for parliament in elections later this year, a member of his Future Movement told The National, leaving the Sunni Muslim community without a clear political leadership during the worsening economic crisis.

“It is likely that Mr Hariri will announce that he will not present himself at the elections; neither will his parliamentary block,” MP Mohammad Hajjar told The National.

Two other Future Movement sources, who asked to remain anonymous, said the party was debating whether to participate at all in the elections, scheduled for May 15.

“Mr Hariri will resign temporarily from politics and he will support individuals as representatives of the Future Movement,” a source said.

Mr Hariri, who returned on Wednesday from a several-month stay in the UAE, is expected to give a speech at 4pm Beirut time detailing his political future.

“It seems he's withdrawing from politics but at the same time there's a possibility that he'll make a political statement in which he hints that participating in elections or in the political process altogether is not useful given Hezbollah's arsenal,” said Mohannad Hage Ali, a research fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre.

Mr Hariri is traditionally aligned with Gulf states and Western countries and politically opposed to Iran-backed Hezbollah, though the two parties have compromised multiple times in the past in Parliament.

Hezbollah is the only Lebanese political party that kept its weapons at the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Mr Hariri served as prime minister from November 2009 to June 2011 and a second time from December 2016 to January 2020.

He was appointed for a third time as prime minister in October 2020 but announced in July that he had failed to form a Cabinet because of political bickering.

“May God help the country,” he said as he ended his attempt to form an administration.

Lebanon is suffering from its worst economic crisis to date, which has pushed almost three-quarters of the population into poverty.

On Monday, the cabinet met for the first time in more than three months to discuss a range of stalled urgent economic and financial issues, including the 2022 state budget.

Ministers representing Iran-backed and heavily militarised Hezbollah and its ally Amal movement have boycotted cabinet meetings since October to protest against what they described as a “biased” probe into the devastating explosion at Beirut's port in August 2020, paralysing the executive arm of the Lebanese political system.

Speculation about the future role of Mr Hariri in Lebanese politics was rife in Lebanese media on Monday, with daily Annahar writing that while the Cabinet meets for the first time in months, “all eyes are on Hariri".

The newspaper claimed that Mr Hariri had had multiple secret meetings with the country's top political leaders since his return last week, including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

A potential withdrawal of Mr Hariri from elections caused worry and confusion at the weekend among Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community.

Local media reported on Sunday that dozens of his supporters drove from all over the country to Mr Hariri's house in Beirut, waving his party's blue flag and asking him to participate in the electoral process.

Mr Hariri responded by saying that his home would “remain open to all".

Updated: January 25, 2022, 5:10 AM