Lebanon: Saad Hariri says he is in the running to head next government

Former PM says all parties must agree to focus on recovery plan proposed by France

In this photo released by Lebanese government, Lebanese outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri gestures during his meeting with his parliamentary bloc, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. Lebanon's President Michel Aoun was holding long-delayed talks with parliamentary blocs Thursday to discuss the naming of a new prime minister amid an unprecedented political and economic crisis and weeks of nationwide protests roiling the country. (Dalati Nohra via AP)

Lebanon's former prime minister Saad Hariri has said he is a possible candidate to head a new government to stem the country's economic collapse.

French President Emmanuel Macron last month extracted a pledge from all political sides in the former French protectorate to back speedy government formation as part of a roadmap out of the crisis, but efforts so far have failed.

"I am definitely a candidate" to head the next government, Mr Hariri said during a live interview on the MTV television channel on Thursday.

I "will not close the door on the only hope left for Lebanon to stem this collapse," he said.

President Michel Aoun is to hold parliamentary consultations on naming a new premier on Thursday next week.

Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis since the end of a 15-year civil war in 1990, and still reeling from a massive explosion at Beirut's port on August 4 that killed more than 200 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

A financial meltdown since last year has wiped out the value of the currency and sent inflation soaring, while the coronavirus pandemic has dealt a further blow to the economy and is straining the country's healthcare system.

Mr Hariri said he feared the country could sink again into civil strife if the situation continued as it was.

"I fear a civil war and what is happening in terms of carrying arms and what we are seeing in terms of military displays in the street ... means the collapse of the state," he said.

Mr Hariri said he was ready to start making phone calls during the coming week "if all political teams still agree on the programme" discussed with Mr Macron.

The former premier stepped down under street pressure after mass protests erupted on October 17 last year to demand the overhaul of a political class accused of being inept and corrupt.

The government that followed, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned in the wake of the Beirut blast.

The next premier designate, Mustapha Adib, last month bowed out just weeks after being nominated, after his efforts to hammer out a cabinet were blocked by the country's two main Shiite political parties, Hezbollah and Amal, seeking to keep the finance ministry under their control.

“Is the ministry of finance or naming the Shiite ministers a good enough reason to topple the French initiative that can stop the collapse and rebuild Beirut?” Mr Hariri asked.

Forming a government can drag on for months in multi-confessional Lebanon, where a sectarian power-sharing arrangement seeks to maintain a fragile balance between all sides.

But Mr Hariri said all political sides had agreed with Mr Macron, who visited Beirut twice in the wake of the blast, to set aside their differences for six months to save the country from further deterioration.

"Every political side can invent a problem to government formation," Mr Hariri said.

"But if the political parties really want to stem the collapse and rebuild Beirut, they must follow the French initiative."

Mr Hariri, a western ally traditionally aligned with Gulf states, also said Lebanon had no way out of the crisis other than a programme with the International Monetary Fund.

IMF talks stalled earlier this year over disputes among Lebanese government officials, bankers and political parties about the scale of the country's vast financial losses.

Foreign donors have made clear there will be no fresh aid unless the heavily indebted state begins reforms it has long ignored to tackle waste and corruption.

A donor conference being organised by France was pushed back from the end of October to next month as the deadlock over a new government continues.

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