Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt criticised former Prime Minister and ally Saad Hariri during a live TV interview on Monday evening, just hours after Mr Hariri reported that he had held encouraging meetings with top officials in a bid to return as head of government.
"This is a self-nomination," he told local television network Al Jadeed, accusing Mr Hariri of behaving like French monarch Louis XIV who famously said: "I am the state".
Mr Jumblatt, a close ally of Mr Hariri’s despite several fallings-outs in the past years, said that Mr Hariri’s public announcement last Thursday naming himself a candidate for the premiership was a violation of the Lebanese constitution.
“According to the constitution, if there still is a constitution, parliamentary blocs go to [the Presidential Palace] Baabda and choose” a new Prime minister, added Mr Jumblatt. “Then, depending on the votes, there is a nomination.”
On Monday, Mr Hariri had “encouraging” meetings with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Mr Hariri said he was betting “on the wisdom of the political forces” to succeed in forming a Cabinet quickly, nearly three weeks after Prime Minister designate Mustafa Adib, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany, stepped aside.
Nominated on August 31, Mr Adib attempted to form an independent government to tackle Lebanon’s worst-ever economic crisis, but political parties torpedoed his efforts by insisting, in a long-standing tradition, on nominating ministers.
Mr Hariri announced on Monday that he would send a delegation to meet Lebanon’s main political parties to make sure that they still supported the initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Lebanon twice in less than a month after a deadly explosion at Beirut port killed at least 190 people.
Lebanese parties promised Mr Macron that they would back an independent government of specialists with no ties to traditional political parties, who are accused of mismanaging the country’s finances. “But isn’t Mr Hariri a politician himself?” said Mr Jumblatt, referring to Mr Hariri’s party, the Future Movement.
Mr Jumblatt said that his party, the Progressive Socialist Party, would refuse to meet Mr Hariri’s representatives this week ahead of consultations between political parties and Mr Aoun set to begin on Thursday.
"He named himself and there is no need for us to go to Baabda, and it is possible that a deal will be struck with [Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran] Bassil and the Shiite duo [Hezbollah and the Amal Movement]," said Mr Jumblatt, quoted by local newspaper The Daily Star.
The consultations are set to take place just a few days before the first anniversary of the Lebanese revolution, which began on October 17, 2019, when hundreds of thousands of people spontaneously took to the streets to protest the deteriorating economic situation, pushing Mr Hariri to resign a few weeks later, on October 29.
According to local newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour, Mr Jumblatt warned that Hariri's return as premier could "rekindle tensions in the streets."