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Lebanon: Hariri again tasked with forming new government

Future Movement leader secures enough nominations to become prime minister-designate but faces tricky task to build coalition
Saad Hariri delivers a statement after the president named him to form a new cabinet, at the presidential palace in Baabda (AFP)
By Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut

One year after being turfed out of office by mass popular protests, Saad Hariri has been tasked with forming a Lebanese government for a fourth time.

Hariri ran as the sole candidate during consultations between MPs and President Michel Aoun, and was able to gain 65 votes out a possible 120, despite opposition from some key political parties.

The Future Movement leader is now tasked with forming a reformist government that will win the support of the international community and help salvage Lebanon’s moribund economy.

In a brief statement to the press, the former prime minister promised his next government would be made up of "non-partisan experts" that would prioritize implementing necessary economic reforms to revitalize the country and reconstruction following the Beirut port explosion.

'Time is running out and this opportunity for our beloved country is the only one left'

- Saad Hariri

"I will get to forming a government quickly," Hariri said. "Because time is running out and this opportunity for our beloved country is the only one left."

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Consultations were originally scheduled for 15 October, but were postponed the night before by Aoun. While Aoun’s own Free Patriotic Movement had requested he postpone the consultations again, the president said in a speech on Wednesday that he was committed to not delaying them further.

Lebanon’s economy is in freefall, with Lebanese woes compounded by the August explosion at Beirut’s port that killed nearly 200 and left much of the capital a wreck.

The Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, who make up the majority of Christian MPs, have questioned the ability of Hariri, the scion of a political dynasty, to lead a reformist government. Both left Baabda Palace without endorsing a candidate.

Meanwhile, though Hezbollah looked set to endorse the former prime minister, they instead named no candidate, calling for “national understanding” to pave the way for a new government.

The difference-maker was Hezbollah ally and parliament speaker Nabih Berri and the MPs of his party, the Amal Movement.

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Berri, after meeting with Hariri and Aoun, told the press that the atmosphere was “positive” between the president and prime minister-designate.

Hariri resigned from his third term as premier in late October 2019 during country-wide protests against corruption and the political elite sparked by Lebanon's shaky economy.

Over the past year, that economy has spiralled, rendering over half the population in poverty, and devaluing the local currency by roughly 80 percent.

Lebanon has been without a government for over two months since caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab resigned following the 4 August port explosion.

While Mustapha Adib, ambassador to Germany, was then made prime minister-designate later that month, he stepped aside weeks later after struggling to form a new cabinet.

Since the Beirut blast, French President Emmanuel Macron has visited twice to pressure the country’s ruling parties to put together a reformist government to make the state viable again.

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