Lebanon’s Aoun vows to nominate prime minister and back reforms

President Michel Aoun offers more questions than answers, with MPs set to meet to select a new head of government

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 12, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
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Lebanon's President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday that he would shoulder his responsibility in designating a prime minister to form a new government that must enact reforms to help the country out of the financial crisis.

In a televised speech, Mr Aoun blamed other officials for blocking reforms, including a forensic audit of the central bank and an overhaul of the power sector, but stopped short of naming anyone. He pledged to confront anyone who seeks to block reform though his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, which has faced similar accusations of obstructionism from other political factions.

“Where are all the reforms? Where are all the clauses that were presented to the heads of [parliamentary] blocs and parties [though] nothing was implemented?" he said.

"The silence of any official, and lack of co-operation in the forensic audit [of the central bank], proves he is a partner in corruption and waste," he added.

Foreign donors have made it clear there will be no aid unless the heavily indebted state launches steps to tackle entrenched waste and graft.

Mr Aoun said that he understood the “pain and resentment” of the Lebanese but blamed his predecessors for the country’s year-long economic crisis that has pushed over half the population into poverty.

“The truth is that I must remind you that some of those who ruled Lebanon for decades (…) raised resounding slogans that remained without any content and were like promises meant to anesthetise the Lebanese people” he said, seemingly referring to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s political party, the Future Movement.

Mr Hariri and his later father Rafic served as Prime Minister for nearly 14 years in total from the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Mr Hariri resigned on October 29, 2019, after nearly two weeks of unprecedented nation-wide protests caused by the country's economic crisis.

Mr Hariri is the only candidate for the premiership and is expected to be chosen by parliamentary blocs during binding consultations on Thursday.

Local media reported that Mr Aoun had initially delayed the consultations last week because of the refusal of Lebanon's main Christian parties, including the FPM, to endorse Mr Hariri. According to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing agreement, the President is Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister Sunni Muslim and the Parliament Speaker Shiite Muslim.
Lebanon has been without a government since August 11, when Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of a massive explosion at Beirut port that killed 202 people.

Nominated on August 31, Prime Minister designate Mustafa Adib stepped down nearly one month ago because of political infighting.

In his speech, Mr Aoun attacked “officials and politicians” who “secured their personal interest” and rooted corruption in Lebanon’s “authorities, institutions and administrations”.

Mr Aoun's six-year mandate will end in 2022. The FPM leads the largest parliamentary bloc, and with six ministers, it also holds the biggest share in the caretaker cabinet that was formed late January. Billed as an "independent" government of technocrats, the cabinet, which had the backing of traditional parties, failed to garner international support to address the country's deepening economic crisis.

Mr Aoun asked Lebanese MPs to choose a new Prime Minister with a “national conscience and sense of responsibility” towards their country. Addressing lawmakers, Mr Aoun said: “my hope is that you will think carefully (…) because the current deteriorating situation cannot continue anymore.”