Lebanon’s largest Christian political party said on Saturday it would not back the nomination of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to lead a government to tackle a deep economic crisis, further complicating efforts to agree a new premier.
Hariri, who quit as prime minister last October in the face of nationwide protests, has said he is ready to lead a government to implement reforms proposed by France as a way to unlock badly needed international aid.
But Hariri, Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni Muslim politician, has failed to win backing from the two main Christian parties - the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Lebanese Forces.
Parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister were due to be held last Thursday, but President Michel Aoun postponed the discussions after receiving requests for a delay from some parliamentary blocs.
The FPM, which is led by Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, said it could not back a political figure such as Hariri because French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal had called for a reformist government made up of and led by “specialists”.
As a result, the party’s political council “decided unanimously not to nominate... Hariri to lead the government”, a statement said, adding that Aoun’s week-long postponement would not lead the party to reconsider its position.
Hariri could still secure a parliamentary majority if the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its ally Amal endorse him for premier.
But the absence of support from either of the main Christian blocs would hand him at best a fragile mandate to tackle Lebanon’s gravest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The country has plunged into financial turmoil and the value of the Lebanese pound has collapsed. COVID-19 and a huge explosion at Beirut’s port two months ago have compounded the crisis and pushed many Lebanese into poverty.
Hariri, who has served twice as prime minister, resigned two weeks after huge protests erupted exactly a year ago.
The demonstrations, triggered by plans to tax voice calls made through the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging application, grew into wider protests against Lebanon’s political elite.