Lebanon’s outgoing PM backs businessman to replace him

Hariri last week withdrew his candidacy for the premiership, saying he hoped to clear the way for a solution to the political impasse amid nearly eight weeks of anti-government protests.

3 December 2019 | 22:26

Source: Associated Press

  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 3 December 2019 | 22:26

Lebanese protesters shout slogans as they march in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday he supports the nomination of a prominent contractor to become the country’s next premier, a move that will likely pave the way for the formation of a new Cabinet amid a severe economic and financial crisis.

Hariri last week withdrew his candidacy for the premiership, saying he hoped to clear the way for a solution to the political impasse amid nearly eight weeks of anti-government protests.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Hariri said he backs Samir Khatib to become the country’s next prime minister adding that “there are still some details and God willing something good” will happen. Hariri added that “everyone is trying to pass through this difficult period.”

Khatib heads one of Lebanon’s largest engineering and contracting companies and did not hold any political roles in the past.

Over the past weeks, politicians failed to agree on the shape and form of a new government. Hariri had insisted on heading a government of technocrats, while his opponents, including the militant group Hezbollah, want a Cabinet made up of both experts and politicians.

Asked if he is going to take part in the new Cabinet, Hariri said: “I will not nominate political personalities but experts.”

It was not clear how the protesters who have been demonstrating against widespread corruption and mismanagement in the country would respond to the possible formation of the government. The frustrated protesters have resorted to road closures and other tactics to pressure politicians into responding to their demands for a new government.

They have insisted that a new Cabinet be made up of independent figures that have nothing to do with the ruling elite that have been running the country since the 1975-90 civil war ended.

President Michel Aoun now is expected to call for binding consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs to name the new prime minister. But since Hariri, the most powerful Sunni leader in the country said he will back Khatib, the contractor is widely expected to get the post.

According to Lebanon’s power sharing system implemented since independence from France in 1943, the president has to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister should be a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shiite. Cabinet and parliament seats are equally split between Christians and Muslims.

Earlier in the day, outgoing Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil hinted that he will not be part of the new government telling reporters that “the success of the Cabinet is more important than our presence in it.”

The apparent breakthrough comes as Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades with one of the highest debt ratios in the world, high unemployment and an expected contraction in the economy in 2020. Local banks have imposed capital control measures unseen before in the country known for its free market economy.

The possible breakthrough came a day after protesters hurled stones at soldiers while opening a highway south of Beirut, injuring several troops. The Lebanese army said in a statement on Tuesday that one of the protesters in the town of Naameh fired bullets from a pistol the night before adding that the shooting made the troops fire in the air to disperse the protesters.

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