BEIRUT: Barring last-minute hitches, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is set to be designated to form a new government this week following President Michel Aoun’s binding consultations with parliamentary blocs to name a new premier, political sources said Tuesday.
Aoun is slated Thursday to hold daylong binding consultations at Baabda Palace with parliamentary blocs to poll them on their choice for a new prime minister, more than two weeks after Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib stepped down in a move that has thrown the country into further uncertainty and cast gloom on the French initiative to rescue Lebanon.
Also, Lebanon has been left without a functioning government since caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab submitted his Cabinet’s resignation on Aug. 10 over the deadly explosion that pulverized Beirut Port.
A source at Baabda Palace said the parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister would be held as scheduled, ruling out any postponement.
“If parliamentary consultations are held as scheduled, Hariri is the most favorite candidate to be named the next prime minister in the absence of a serious Sunni rival for the premiership,” a political source familiar with the Cabinet formation process told The Daily Star Tuesday.
“If Hariri decides to run for the premiership, he is expected to secure the support a parliamentary majority sufficient to designate him as the next prime minister,” the source said.
Although Hariri has announced that he "was the natural candidate" for the premiership, he has linked his candidacy for the country’s top Sunni post to the rival factions’ commitment to a French reform blueprint aimed at steering the crises-ridden country out of its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War.
After holding “positive” and “reassuring” talks Monday with Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on the French initiative to rescue Lebanon, Hariri said he would dispatch a Future bloc delegation to meet with Lebanon’s political parties to rally additional backing for the initiative. The parties’ commitment to the French plan and concept of forming a small government of independent specialists is pivotal for Hariri’s final decision on whether to run for the post.
“The aim of the Future bloc’s tour is to find out how serious the parties are committed to the French initiative and the reform measures envisaged in it. On this basis, Prime Minister Hariri will make a decision on whether to run for the premiership,” Future MP Mohammed Hajjar told The Daily Star.
“So far, the results have been positive from Hariri’s meetings with Aoun and Berri and the Future bloc’s delegation with Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh,” Hajjar said.
After a meeting with a Future bloc delegation, Frangieh said his party would nominate Hariri to head the next government during Thursday’s parliamentary consultations, while reiterating his support for the French initiative.
“We confirmed our bloc’s nomination of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in any parliamentary consultations,” Frangieh said after the meeting with the Future bloc delegation headed by MP Bahia Hariri. “We hope that the formation of the government will take place smoothly, as turning corners requires cooperation from everyone,” he added.
Praising Hariri as a man known for his patriotism and Arabism, Frangieh said: “Since the first day and during the meeting with [French] President Emmanuel Macron, we spoke about a government of competent people to be headed by a suitable figure to implement the French reform paper.”
“With regard to the French initiative, we have supported it as it was agreed upon the Pine Palace. We have adopted the initiative in front of President Macron,” Frangieh said, referring to Macron’s meeting with Lebanon’s political leaders at the French ambassador’s official residence during his visit to Beirut Sept. 1.
Bahia Hariri said the meeting with Frangieh and other politicians was designed to assert that parliamentary blocs still endorsed the French initiative. “The French initiative exists along with the reform paper,” she said.
The Future bloc delegation also met with Tashnag Party leader Hagop Pakradounian and later with Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea in Maarab, north of Beirut.
So far, the LF and the Progressive Socialist Party have announced that they will not support Hariri’s candidacy for the premiership.
PSP leader Walid Joumblatt, ostensibly an ally of Hariri, lashed out at the ex-premier, saying he would not endorse him as the next prime minister and would not meet with the Future bloc delegation.
“He [Hariri] named himself and there is no need for us to go to Baabda, and it is possible that a deal will be struck with [Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran] Bassil and the Shiite duo [Hezbollah and the Amal Movement]," Joumblatt said in an interview with local channel Al-Jadeed Monday night.
Joumblatt warned that appointing Hariri to head the next government might “provoke the anger of the street.” Hariri was forced to step down as premier on Oct. 29 last year after less than a fortnight of nationwide protests against the country’s entrenched ruling elite who were accused of corruption, mismanagement and waste of public funds.
Joumblatt also questioned how Hariri, who is the head of the Future Movement, could lead a government of independent specialists.
The Free Patriotic Movement headed by MP Gebran Bassil has yet to decide on whether it would support Hariri for the premiership. The Future bloc delegation is set to meet with FPM officials Wednesday.
But Bassil, whose ties with Hariri have been strained since last year, implicitly criticized Hariri for saying he wanted to form a government of specialists.
“Anyone who wants to head a government of specialists must himself be the first specialist, or let him pave the way for a specialist,” Bassil told an FPM rally in Baabda marking the party’s 30th anniversary of the Oct. 13, 1990 events when the Syrian army stormed the Baabda presidential palace, forcing Aoun, who was army commander at the time, to flee and take refuge at the French Embassy before he went into self-exile to France in 1991.
MP Mario Aoun from the FPM’s parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc told a local radio station: “We have not so far decided to nominate Hariri [for prime minister], but we will be positive.” He said the French initiative was the “last chance to overcome the crisis.”
Hariri was reported to have the support of three other former premiers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam for his possible candidacy for the premiership. “A final decision on Hariri’s candidacy for the premiership will be made Wednesday night,” Hajjar said.