Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

Lebanese prime minister-designate steps aside over deadlock

Politicians have failed to agree to the formation of a government despite dire challenges facing the country

Lebanese prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib has stepped aside, putting the month-long process to form a new government back at square one despite French pressure on the country's sectarian leaders to rally together to haul the nation out of a deep crisis.

Mr Adib, selected by political blocs on August 31 to lead the next government, has failed in his bid to form a technocratic administration following bickering between parties who demand to be allowed to select ministers.

“I apologise to the Lebanese people,” Mr Adib said, stressing "the French initiative must continue.”

He had tried to form a government of specialists in a nation where power is shared between Muslims and Christians and political loyalties tend to follow sectarian lines.

A source close to French President Emmanuel Macron told Reuters on Saturday that Paris will not let Lebanon down.

"Lebanon's Adib stepping down amounts to a 'collective betrayal' by Lebanese political parties," the source said.

Mr Macron will hold a news conference on Sunday on the political situation in Lebanon, the French presidency said.

Mr Adib said he was stepping down from "the task of forming the government" following a meeting with President Michel Aoun, after his efforts ran into trouble, particularly over who would run the finance ministry, which will have a crucial role in drawing up a programme to lift Lebanon out of a deep economic crisis.

Lebanon's anti-government protests

Talks with the International Monetary Fund on a vital bailout package stalled this year. The cabinet's first task would have been to restart negotiations.

Crushed by a mountain of debt, Lebanon's banks are paralysed and its currency is in free fall.

France offered a political roadmap for forming a government and setting out reforms that would unlock assistance from overseas, but set strict deadlines that Lebanese officials have failed to meet.

Former prime minister and leading Sunni politician Saad Hariri said on Saturday that anyone celebrating the failure of a French initiative to get Lebanon's fractious leaders to form a new government will regret wasting the opportunity.

"We say to those who applaud the collapse of French President Emmanuel Macron's initiative today, that you will bite your fingers in regret," he said in a statement.

The collapse of negotiations throws the whole process back to the beginning despite political parties saying they want to form a government swiftly to address the dire economic situation, the pandemic, the refugee crisis and the impact of the August 4 explosion that killed at least 190 people and wounded over 6,000 in Beirut.

The cabinet formation hit a roadblock over a demand by Lebanon's two main Shiite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, that they name candidates for several posts including the finance minister, a position previously held by a Shiite.

Mr Adib held several meetings with senior Shiite politicians but failed to reach agreement on how the minister would be chosen. Shiite leaders feared being sidelined as Mr Adib sought to shake up appointments to ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same faction for years, politicians said.

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who is the leader of the Shiite majority Amal Movement, said his group still back's Paris' proposal.

"Our position is to stick to the French initiative and its content," Mr Berri said in a statement.

To select a new prime minister-designate, Mr Aoun will now have to restart consultations with political factions who will cast votes. The candidate with the most backing will then begin talks with factions to draw up a list of names. It is unclear who could succeed Mr Adib or whether his successor would have any more luck in breaking the standing deadlock.

Updated: September 27, 2020 09:57 AM

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