Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 28 October 2020

Lebanon: 'encouraging' talks for Hariri to return as prime minister

The former head of government sat down with the president on Monday and is expected to meet the Speaker of Parliament

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri may be set to return to power after ‘encouraging’ talks with the president on Monday. Reuters  
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri may be set to return to power after ‘encouraging’ talks with the president on Monday. Reuters  

A meeting between Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri was encouraging, the former prime minister said, a signal that he may return as head of government after resigning in the face of mass rallies last year.

After announcing during an interview with MTV on Thursday that he was “definitely a candidate” to replace caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, Mr Hariri held a highly scrutinised meeting with Mr Aoun on Monday morning that is expected to be followed by a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Local media reported that the outcome of these meetings would decide whether Mr Hariri could be approached to lead the next government during consultations with political factions scheduled to begin on Thursday. Lebanon has been governed by a caretaker government since Mr Diab stepped down on August 10 after a deadly explosion at Beirut port that killed at least 190 people.

“The result is unclear and depends on his meetings today with the president and Parliament Speaker. If they are successful, [his] assignment will follow,” wrote Al Akhbar newspaper before the meeting on Monday.

Mr Hariri said that his meeting with Mr Aoun was encouraging, Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported.

Mr Hariri said that he supported the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, who asked political parties to speed up the formation of a new government and set aside their differences to save the country from economic collapse.

“We have no time to lose in political bickering,” said Mr Hariri, according to the state-run National News Agency. “I informed the president that I will send a delegation to meet all the political blocs to make sure that they are committed to the French initiative.”

Mr Hariri said he was betting “on the wisdom of the political forces”.

“This was also the stance of the president, and this encourages me to continue efforts to make President Macron’s initiative a success,” he said.

Mr Hariri, 50, resigned on October 29 last year after weeks of huge anti-government demonstrations sparked by the country’s worst economic crisis.

Protesters rallied around the cry of “all of them means all of them”, demanding the resignation of the country’s entire political class.

But little changed as the new government formed in January represented the traditional sectarian and party allegiances despite Mr Diab’s claims that it was independent.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany, Mustafa Adib, was instructed to form a government on August 31 but failed because, in a long-standing tradition, political parties insisted on choosing ministers. He stepped aside on September 26.

Mr Hariri, who also wants to form an independent government of specialists despite being a party leader himself, will probably face similar difficulties although he has more independent authority because of his connections.

The insistence of Lebanon’s two main Shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal, on keeping control of the Finance Ministry was widely seen as the main barrier in Mr Adib’s attempt to form an independent Cabinet.

This has not changed, said Al Akhbar, which is sympathetic to Hezbollah. “Their position remains: what was not given to Mustafa Adib will not be given to others. This means that the two parties will continue demanding to name the finance minister or give a list to the designated prime minister to choose from,” it wrote on Monday.

Mr Hariri seemed to want to reassure political parties on Monday, saying that “the French initiative is based on forming a government of specialists who are not affiliated with parties, and within a schedule that does not exceed a few months”, MTV reported. “I repeat that the absence of parties in the government is for only a few months.”

Several political leaders are expected to give their opinion on Mr Hariri’s interest in the premiership this week. Druze leader Walid Joumblatt of the Progressive Socialist Party will give a televised interview on Monday evening and the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party that is close to Mr Hariri’s Future Movement, will announce its decision on Wednesday, reported pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Updated: October 12, 2020 08:31 PM

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