Lebanon: Hariri secures parliamentary support to become Prime Minister

Mr Hariri wants to form a government of 'non-partisan specialists' to tackle the country’s many crises

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Lebanese former prime minister Saad Hariri has been chosen to try to form a government to tackle the country's worst crises since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Mr Hariri, whose last coalition government was toppled about a year ago after mass protests broke out, secured enough support to return during parliamentary talks on Thursday. His appointment is the fourth time he has held the post in a decade.

He promised to form a “government of non-partisan specialists" after meeting President Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday afternoon.

In a statement published by the state-run National News Agency, he said he would “work to stop the collapse that threatens [Lebanon’s] economy, society and security, and to rebuild what was destroyed by the terrible port explosion” that killed at least 190 people on August 4.

“I will first focus on forming a government quickly because time is running out,” he added.

Celebratory gunfire was heard in the northern city of Tripoli, which traditionally supports Mr Hariri, reported the NNA.

In the parliamentary vote he was backed by 65 MPs, while 53 did not vote for anyone and there were two absentees.

"Usually, a Prime Minister secures the two thirds of the votes in the Lebanese system," Lebanese political analyst Sami Nader told The National.

Mr Hariri’s short win “will put his legitimacy into question,” he added.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, center, meets with Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri, right, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct, 22, 2020. Lebanon's president Michel Aoun asked former premier Saad Hariri to form the country's next government Thursday after he secured enough votes from lawmakers - bringing back an old name to lead the country out of its dire political and economic crises. (Anwar Amro, Pool via AP)

The small Mediterranean country is facing its worst economic and social crisis since the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

Mr Hariri's successor, Hassan Diab, claimed to head Lebanon's first "independent" cabinet when it was formed in January, despite receiving backing from traditional political parties.

Mr Diab failed to attract financial support for the cash-strapped country and resigned after the explosion at Beirut port. Eight MPs also stepped down, bringing their total number down to 120.

Mr Hariri, who was the only candidate for the job, received the backing of Amal, the political party of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, during the parliamentary consultations that started on Thursday morning in Mr Aoun’s palace in Baabda, outside Beirut.

But Mr Hariri was neither supported by President Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, which represents 17 MPs, nor by Lebanon’s second biggest Christian party, the Lebanese Forces with 14 MPs.

The NNA reported that Mr Berri said that “there will be a rapprochement between the Future and the Free Patriotic Movement,” he said as he left Baabda.

Despite having publicly pushed for Mr Hariri’s return to power in the past months, Lebanon’s powerful party-cum-militia Hezbollah did not officially back him on Thursday and instead nominated no one.

Mr Nader said that Hezbollah refrained from publicly endorsing Mr Hariri to not hinder chances of financial support from the international community, and specifically from the US and Saudi Arabia, who are Mr Hariri’s traditional allies but consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

“They did not nominate Hariri because that would have torpedoed him,” said Mr Nader. “Mr Hariri’s major weak point is that he is the hidden candidate of Hezbollah. If the Saudis or the Americans saw that he had been nominated by Hezbollah, they would not support him.”

Mr Hariri will face major challenges to navigate Lebanon's power-sharing politics and agree a cabinet, which must then address a mounting list of woes: a banking crisis, currency crash, rising poverty and crippling state debts.

A new government will also have to contend with a Covid-19 surge and the fallout of the port explosion that caused billions of dollars of damage.