BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri vowed Thursday to quickly form a new Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists, having secured enough votes from lawmakers to win the premiership and lead a government that must pull Lebanon out of its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 Civil War.
“I thank my colleagues and those who named me to form a government of specialists, without party partisans, whose task is to implement the economic, financial and administrative reforms put forward in the French initiative,” Hariri said in a televised address from Baabda Palace.
The French initiative seeks to chart Lebanon away from financial ruin and comprises a road map of reforms that French President Emmanuel Macron said would unlock international aid if followed. Part of that aid would be pledged at a donor conference that Macron has said he would organize to raise funds in order to rebuild Beirut after the Aug. 4 port explosion.
"I tell the Lebanese who are suffering from difficulties to the point of despair, that I am determined to abide by my promise to them, to work to stop the collapse that threatens our economy, our society and our security, and to rebuild what was destroyed by the terrible port explosion in Beirut," Hariri said.
"I will focus first on rapidly forming a government, because time is running and this is the last and only opportunity for our beloved country."
President Michel Aoun earlier in the day appointed Hariri as prime minister-designate after 65 lawmakers threw their weight behind him in consultations held at Baabda Palace.
Hariri's return to the premiership comes almost exactly a year after he was forced to step down under the weight of the nationwide uprising that begun Oct. 17, 2019 over governmental corruption and ineptitude.
There were 53 other lawmakers who declined to name an alternative candidate, and two more were absent.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said after Hariri's designation that he was optimistic that a new government will be formed "faster than expected."
He also said that he expected a bridging of differences between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, which opposed Hariri's nomination.
The Future Movement bloc unsurprisingly endorsed their leader, while the Amal Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Marada Movement, Independent Center bloc, Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Tashnag party’s bloc also backed the former PM to return to his past role.
Speaking on behalf of the Development and Liberation bloc, MP Anwar Khalil said that Hariri must form a “rescue government whose priority should be to “implement all of the reform and rescue items within the French initiative, especially countering corruption and implementing all reforms issued by Parliament.”
Marada Movement MP Tony Frangieh meanwhile said that the country is "tired and the people are disgusted by politics and politicians. We don't want to talk, we want to wait and see how this government will set about this difficult task and restore some hope."
Aoun met separately with former prime ministers Najib Mikati and Tamam Salam, as well as Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli and independent MPs Eddy Demerjian, Michel Daher, Nouhad Machnouk, Jihad al-Samad and Jean Talouzian. All backed Hariri's nomination.
Salam told reporters at Baabda Palace that he hoped other parties would enable the swift formation of a new government without "bickering and procrastination."
Mikati said that he asked Aoun to fulfil his duty to “govern by the text of the Constitution and not take sides in any way” - an apparent response to Aoun’s Wednesday speech in which he hinted that he may delay signing off on any Cabinet lineup that he does not approve of.
Daher, who was once a member of the FPM's parliamentary bloc, called for national unity.
“Now is a time for solidarity and we need a rescue government. There’s no time for political bitterness now ... If we are not all together and there’s no national unity, I’m scared that this will be the last government in Lebanon as we know it," he said.
Several political blocs refused to endorse Hariri and instead chose not to name anyone for the premiership.
They were: Hezbollah's Loyalty to the Resistance bloc, the FPM's Strong Lebanon bloc, the Lebanese Forces' Strong Republic bloc, the Mountain Guarantee bloc, the Consultative Gathering bloc, and independent MPs Osama Saad, Fouad Makhzoumi, Chamel Roukoz and Jamil Sayyed.
"The FPM is with a reform government of specialists that are politically supported, and the essence of the French initiative is in line with that," the bloc's leader Gebran Bassil said. "Circumstances led to there being one candidate and since he is not a specialist but is a politician par excellence, we decided not to name him."
Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad said that "national understanding" was needed to "preserve Lebanon" and that it would work to create a "positive atmosphere" to support the Cabinet formation process.
Speaking on behalf of the Consultative Gathering bloc, MP Walid Sukkarieh said that the bloc's four Sunni MPs didn't name anyone "because there was only one candidate" and because they saw "once again a return to the dangerous policies that led Lebanon to the crises it is in now."
MP Georges Adwan, representing the Lebanese Forces, said that the bloc refrained from naming Hariri because he already has "the majority from the [Sunni] component that he represents."
Adwan went on to say that the bloc wants a fully independent government of specialists that is committed to a rotation of the sovereign portfolios, questioning whether Hariri could form such a government.
"Where will we go now after Hariri is designated? ... Did the majority of the political class learn that it won't work if there is sectarian spoil sharing and that we must change this system?" he said.
The LF has been attempting to set itself up as an opposition group outside the political elite since Hariri resigned last year.
Lebanon has been in a 73-day political impasse that started following caretaker Prime Minster Hassan Diab’s resignation Aug. 10 over the deadly Beirut Port blast.
Lebanon in the meantime has been sinking further into crisis, left without a fully functioning government that can manage the COVID-19 pandemic, stall Lebanon's financial collapse and respond to the social catastrophe caused by the port explosion.
The government formation process is likely to be fraught with difficulty, however.
Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adid stepped down 26 days ago after he was unable to break through a deadlock over the shape and independence of the government he had been tasked to form. The underlying causes of that impasse remain unresolved.
Aoun Wednesday also signaled that he may delay signing the decree of what “he deems a de facto Cabinet,” a political source told The Daily Star.
“It’s clear that Aoun’s speech reflects resentment on the part of the president and his political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, over the expected designation of [former] Prime Minister Saad Hariri to form the next government,” the source added.
Any delay in the formation of a new government would likely be received poorly by members of the international community who have vowed to help Lebanon. They say they need a credible government to work with and that it must be empowered to carry out wide-reaching reforms.