Lebanese businessman Samir Khatib’s withdrawal from consideration to be Lebanon’s next prime minister has pushed Saad Hariri back into the limelight, despite him saying he refused to return as premier.
"It's very probable that Saad Hariri will be designated prime minister next week," a member of Parliament, Alain Aoun, told The National.
Late on Sunday evening, President Michel Aoun postponed parliamentary consultations from Monday to December 16 after Mr Khatib bowed out.
Mr Khatib, 74, said on Sunday that Grand Mufti Abdellatif Deryan, Lebanon's highest Sunni Muslim authority, told him "a consensus had been reached to name Saad Hariri as prime minister to form the next government".
But Mr Hariri, who resigned on October 29 under pressure from mass anti-government protests, said in November he had no interest in becoming Lebanon’s prime minister again.
He is serving as a caretaker until parties can agree on another candidate.
Mr Aoun, the president’s nephew, dismissed Mr Hariri’s statement as a manoeuvre.
“Since the beginning, everybody wants Hariri, even the Shiites,” he said, referring to Lebanon’s two powerful parties, Hezbollah and Amal.
Since Mr Hariri’s resignation, his party, the Future Movement, and the president’s Free Patriotic Movement have accused each other of delaying the formation of a new government.
Mr Hariri said he would only lead a government of technocrats, as demanded by protesters, while President Aoun said politicians should also be included.
Three weeks ago former finance minister Mohamad Safadi also gave up the prospect of being the country’s next prime minister, despite the backing of three important political parties.
Once the new prime minister is nominated, negotiations between Lebanese political parties to form a new government may take some time, said Mr Aoun, a member of the FPM.
“If Mr Hariri is not flexible at all, it could take a long time,” he said.
On Monday, France announced it would host an international conference on Lebanon on December 11 to push Beirut into quickly creating a government that could repair the economy.
"This meeting should enable the international community to call for the rapid formation of an effective and credible government, which takes the necessary decisions to restore the economic situation and meets the aspirations expressed by the Lebanese people," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said.
Consensual power sharing in Lebanon, which is based on proportional representation of its many sects, caused a delay of nine months in forming the last government.
Protesters have called for an end to sectarianism, which they say encourages corruption.
Mr Aoun said that parties were ready to accept a government of specialists with “minimal political representation”.
The Interior Ministry would still be led by Raya Al Hassan, a member of the Future Movement, while others could be changed, he said.
Mr Aoun said it remained unclear whether caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, head of the FPM and one of the most unpopular politicians, would be included in the next government.
On December 3, Mr Bassil said that he was ready to take a step back if that would speed up implementation of reforms.
Lebanese leaders urgently need to agree on a new government to tackle the country’s economic and financial crisis.
Last week Mr Hariri wrote to several countries, appealing for help to import essential goods.