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Government formation

Hariri is designated to become prime minister, but now faces daunting challenges

Hariri is designated to become prime minister, but now faces daunting challenges

Newly designated to form a government, Saad Hariri sits with President Michel Aoun, center, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, left, at the Presidential Palace. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

BEIRUT — Saad Hariri, a three-time former prime minister, has been tasked by MPs to form a new “rescue” government capable of pulling Lebanon out of a myriad of accumulated crises.

Hariri, the only candidate in Thursday’s parliamentary consultations, won the votes of 65 MPs from a possible total of 120, returning him to the position that he resigned from almost one year ago amid pressure from mass protests against the elite.

In addition to his own Future Movement bloc, Hariri gained the support of parties including the Amal Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, as well as a number of independent MPs.

Fifty-three lawmakers chose not to name a candidate, and two — Michel Murr and Talal Arslan — were absent from the nominations.

Following his nomination, Hariri supporters in Tripoli fired their weapons into the air in celebration. A Lebanese Army source told L’Orient Today that at least six people were injured.

In a speech accepting the nomination, the Future Movement leader committed to forming a government made up of specialists and independent of the political parties.

“I will stop the collapse that is threatening our country’s economy, society and stability,” Hariri vowed, addressing the Lebanese people.

This will not be an easy feat. Over the last year, Lebanon has sunk deeper into unprecedented economic, financial and currency crises, pushing more than half of the population into poverty and threatening access to food, medicine and fuel.

Then came the explosion at the Beirut port on Aug. 4 that killed over 200 people and devastated large parts of the capital. It also led to the collapse of the government of Hassan Diab, who resigned less than a week after the blast, following major protests in downtown Beirut demanding accountability.

In addition to managing reconstruction efforts in the capital, Hariri’s cabinet will also have to enact critical financial, economic and governance reforms laid out in a French road map. Without these reforms, Lebanon will not be able to unlock urgently needed financial support from the international community and has little chance of resuming stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund.

“This time, the politicians will not be able to get away with just lip service commitments,” Carmen Geha, an activist and associate professor at the American University of Beirut, told L’Orient Today.

In the French road map, the government was supposed to be formed by Sept. 15. After this deadline was missed, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that an aid conference originally scheduled for October would be postponed until November.

Since the devastating port explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron has visited Lebanon twice to urge the country’s political leaders to establish a government capable of passing these reforms.

This mission proved too tough for Mustapha Adib, the previously unknown diplomat who was MPs’ first pick for prime minister-designate. He was unable to overcome infighting among the country’s politicians over the shape of the cabinet.

Hariri, who had mostly remained out of the political limelight since his resignation last year, has been the front-runner to take the reins of the government since he proclaimed himself the “natural candidate” for prime minister during a late-night talk show two weeks ago.

Hariri will hold official meetings with MPs to discuss government formation on Friday.

However, as Hariri embarks on the process of forming his fourth government, he looks to be on shaky footing, as he failed to win the explicit support of Lebanon’s two biggest Christian blocs — his traditional ally the Lebanese Forces and their rival, the Free Patriotic Movement — in addition to Hezbollah.

“This signals things aren’t going to happen easily,” said Nadim El Kak, a researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. “You need a consensus, especially when you are trying to enact reforms.”

President Michel Aoun, who founded the FPM, said in a speech on Wednesday that he would personally “participate in the government formation, in line with the provisions of the constitution.”

The president had delayed consultations to name a prime minister, originally scheduled for last Thursday, at the last minute. The delay came after his own party said they would not name Hariri.

At today’s consultations, current FPM leader Gebran Bassil, who is also Aoun’s son-in-law, hit out at Hariri’s nomination to head a government of specialists, calling him “a politician par excellence.”

For Geha, Bassil’s party and the rest of the 53 MPs who did not name a candidate are by no means absolved from responsibility for the actions of the next government.

“This is a tacit agreement, which simply maintains the status quo,” she said.

Now, the countdown has begun for Hariri to launch negotiations to select the ministers who will make up his cabinet. The last time he was designated prime minister, this process took him more than eight months.

“Choosing Hariri is the ultimate last resort,” Kak said.


BEIRUT — Saad Hariri, a three-time former prime minister, has been tasked by MPs to form a new “rescue” government capable of pulling Lebanon out of a myriad of accumulated crises.

Hariri, the only candidate in Thursday’s parliamentary consultations, won the votes of 65 MPs from a possible total of 120, returning him to the position that he resigned from almost one year ago...