Lebanon News

Aoun to hold talks on new PM early next week

Lebanese protesters sit on the ground to block a venue during ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon (Saida) on November 1, 2019. / AFP / Mahmoud ZAYYAT

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun is set to hold binding consultations with MPs to appoint a new premier early next week, amid mounting calls for the quick formation of a new government to implement essential reforms to halt the country’s economic and financial deterioration.

“President Aoun will hold binding consultations with lawmakers either Monday or Tuesday to poll them on their choice for the next prime minister,” an official source told The Daily Star Friday.

The president’s move comes days after Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned under pressure of nationwide anti-government protests. Aoun has asked the government to serve in a caretaker capacity until a new Cabinet is formed.

At the end of the one-day consultations, the candidate who gets the support of the majority of parliamentary blocs will be appointed to form a new Cabinet.

Hariri has emerged as the favorite candidate to form the next government, judging by statements made by leaders of major blocs over the past few days, who expressed firm support for his return to the premiership.

Focus will then shift to shape and size of the new government, with preliminary talks already studying two options: A technocratic government as demanded by protesters and some parties or a mixed politico-technocratic government.

Dozens of protesters gathered on the highway leading to Baabda Palace, demanding that the president hold parliamentary consultations immediately to facilitate the formation of a new government.

Addressing the nation Thursday night on the third anniversary of his six-year presidential term, Aoun called for the formation of a “homogenous” government capable of fulfilling the protesters’ demands for change, fighting corruption and the return of looted public money. He also stressed that new ministers should be chosen based on competence, not their political allegiances, appearing to endorse protesters’ demands for a government of technocrats.

Banks in Lebanon reopened for the first time in two weeks Friday as the country began returning to normal following two weeks of unprecedented mass street protests demanding a radical political change.

Friday marked the 16th consecutive day of protesters over worsening economic conditions and corruption, during which roads across the country had been intermittently blocked by demonstrators.

In addition to the resignation, hundreds of thousands of protesters who staged a popular uprising on Oct. 17, are also demanding the end of the sectarian political system, the removal of the ruling political elite, early parliamentary elections, the formation of a technocratic government and the return of stolen public funds, among other basic demands such as electricity, water and jobs.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called for the swift formation of a new government that would work to restore the trust of the people and listen to their demands.

“We call on this new government to work seriously as the country’s financial and economic time is tight. Seriousness, hard work and prioritizing [things] is needed,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “With a new government that lacks clarity, honesty and transparency, we will not reach a solution to the crisis.”

“We call on the new government to respond to the demands of the people who are still in the streets. The main objective of the new government should be restoring confidence,” he said.

Nasrallah reiterated that he did not support the resignation of the government, as it could lead the country into a vacuum. “The government has resigned and we did not support this. The prime minister has his own reasons. Among the consequences of the resignation is that the [government’s] reform blueprint and all draft laws to recover the looted money and fight corruption have been put on hold.”

He said if the Cabinet caretaker period was long, this amounted to a power vacuum. “All politicians are responsible for pushing to end the power vacuum by facilitating the formation of a new government as soon as possible,” he said. Calling for dialogue between all political parties and blocs and the protesters, Nasrallah warned of an alleged “American role” that prevented Lebanon from emerging from this crisis. He called for the formation of “a sovereign government, whose members have their national roles and do not contact the U.S. Embassy and others to take a decision.” Nasrallah praised the uprising for bringing together people from all sects. “We must build on these feelings that are cross-sectarian,” he said.

Ahead of the planned parliamentary consultations, calls for the formation of a technocratic government are gaining ground.

Caretaker Interior Minister Raya El Hassan called for a technocratic government to lead Lebanon out of its current crisis. “Business cannot run as usual ... and I think that by forming a technocratic government, that’s a step in the right direction,” she told CNN. In reply to a question, Hassan, who belongs to the Future Movement, said she was not seeking to become the next prime minister. ”Prime Minister Hariri should be the next prime minister. Frankly, I strongly believe in this. I am not seeking this post,” she said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, whose four ministers resigned from Hariri’s Cabinet last month, renewed his call for the formation of a technocratic government. “We cannot emerge from this situation except with a major salvation step, which is the formation a government different from previous ones. A salvation government must be made up of independent and clean-handed figures who have specialization and successful experience in life,” Geagea told a news conference after chairing a meeting of the LF’s parliamentary Strong Republic bloc at his residence in Maarab.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 02, 2019, on page 1.

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