BEIRUT: In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, then former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri delivers a statement after the president named him to form a new cabinet, at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. – AFP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down yesterday, saying he was unable to form a government, nine months after accepting the challenge and as the country sinks deeper into crisis. Donors remain adamant that a government must be formed before they can open credit lines, but political squabbling has repeatedly stymied efforts at compromise, leaving over half the population living below the global poverty line.

Hariri had been nominated for the post in October 2020, following a devastating explosion at Beirut port in August caused by unsafely stored fertilizer, that killed more than 200 people and forced the previous government to resign. “I met with the president, and we had (a) consultation on the issue of the government,” Hariri said yesterday, referring to Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun.

“There were amendments requested by the president, which I considered substantial in the line-up,” Hariri added. “It is clear that the position (of Aoun) has not changed… and that we will not be able to agree,” he said. He noted that he had offered to spend more time trying to form a cabinet, but he had also been told by the president that “we will not be able to agree.” “That’s why I apologized for (not) forming the government, and may God help the country,” Hariri added.

Cocktail of crises
Hariri is the second candidate to fail at forming a government in less than 12 months amid political bickering between the country’s leaders, who are widely blamed for the country’s cocktail of crises. In a country where seats in government and parliament are distributed according to religious sects, Hariri’s exit will further complicate the process of cabinet formation, as he is widely seen as the main representative of the country’s Sunni Muslims. Despite mounting international pressure, led by former colonial power France, a deeply divided ruling class has failed to agree on a new cabinet line-up, with Hariri and Aoun trading blame for the hold up, despite mounting financial woes.

The international community, led by former colonial power France, has pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian aid since the port blast, pending the establishment of a government. The Lebanese pound is trading on the black market at less than a tenth of its official value, and the country is struggling to import basic items including fuel and medicine. Hariri, who has previously led three governments in Lebanon, replaced Mustapha Adib, a relatively unknown diplomat.

Adib had been nominated in late August but threw in the towel nearly a month later, because of resistance he faced from political leaders over his proposed line up. Hariri’s decision came as Lebanon prepares to mark the first anniversary of the August 4 explosion-it’s worst peace-time tragedy-which many blame on negligence by political leaders. – AFP