Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri announced Thursday his apology for not forming a new government in Lebanon, nine months after he was named, in a step that would deepen the suffering of the country mired in its worst economic crisis.
Hariri said it was clear that he would not be able to agree with President Michel Aoun over ministerial positions.
The last government had resigned in the wake of the massive explosion in the port of Beirut last August, which left 200 people dead. Since that date, the severe economic crisis in Lebanon has worsened.
The collapse of the Lebanese currency has caused inflation to rise dramatically and left people unable to buy food, while the country suffers from severe shortages of fuel, electricity and medicine supplies.
Hariri said in an interview with local television Thursday evening that “Hezbollah did not make enough effort to form a government.”
Hariri said that Aoun “wants the blocking third,” adding, “If Michel Aoun’s government is formed… I will not be able to run the country, because it is not a government that I can work with.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday at the United Nations that Hariri’s apology constitutes “an additional tragic chapter in the inability of Lebanese officials to find a solution to the crisis.”
In turn, the United Nations expressed its regret at Hariri’s apology, and a spokeswoman for the organization said, “We reiterate our call to the country’s political leaders to reach an understanding quickly on forming a new government that can face the many challenges in the country.”
Immediately after Hariri’s apology, the exchange rate of the lira crossed the threshold of twenty thousand against the dollar, at a new record rate, moneychangers told AFP. The National News Agency reported that roads were blocked in several areas in protest.
The World Bank blamed the situation on Lebanese politicians who could not agree on a way forward to get the country out of the crisis.
Other countries have refused to provide billions of dollars in aid to Lebanon until the political parties can form a government that can implement reforms and tackle corruption.
Hariri was nominated by members of Parliament to form a new government last October, just one year after he resigned as prime minister in the wake of popular anti-government protests that sparked the beginning of the country’s economic collapse.
Hariri promised the rapid formation of a government of technocrats, that is, non-partisan specialists, that would implement reforms.
But Aoun rejected many of the ministerial candidates proposed by Hariri.
Hariri and Aoun exchanged accusations of trying to impose appointments that would enable them to obtain the right to veto ministerial decisions.
Yesterday, Wednesday, Hariri presented a new list of 24 technocrats, describing it as a “moment of truth.”
But after a short meeting with Aoun on Thursday, Hariri told reporters that the president had requested “fundamental” amendments that he could not accept.
He said he offered the president more time to think, but added, “Obviously we won’t be able to agree.”
“Therefore, I offered my apologies for (not) forming the government, and may God help the country,” Hariri added.
Later, Aoun responded in a statement through his media office to Hariri’s statement, saying that the latter “was not ready to discuss any amendment of any kind.”
Aoun added in the statement that he will soon set a new date for parliamentary consultations in order to choose an alternative to Hariri.
Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the head of government must be a Sunni, the president of the republic a Christian, and the speaker of parliament a Shiite.
While Lebanon is facing an economic collapse that the World Bank has predicted to be among the three most severe crises in the world since 1850, the rival political forces have not been able to form a government for 11 months.
Hariri and Aoun have spent the past months exchanging accusations of obstruction due to the dispute over quotas and the nomination of ministers.
Hariri is the second person to apologize for not forming a government, after a similar apology made by Ambassador Mustafa Adib, who was tasked by Aoun to form the government at the end of August following the resignation of the current caretaker government headed by Hassan Diab, days after the port explosion.
The international pressures exerted by France, especially since the explosion on the political class, did not succeed in accelerating the process of composition.
In the face of the political impasse, the European Union foreign ministers announced during their Monday meeting their intention to impose sanctions on leaders responsible for the obstruction before the end of this month.
The political vacuum would deepen the suffering of the Lebanese, more than half of whom live below the poverty line, on the impact of the accelerating economic collapse that led to the lira losing more than ninety percent of its value against the dollar.
For weeks, the country has been witnessing a fuel crisis, a shortage of medicine, and 22 hours of electricity rationing. The public and private sectors and utilities are gradually raising their voice, calling for their support to be able to provide services.
Since the port explosion, which exacerbated the economic collapse, the international community has been providing direct humanitarian aid to the Lebanese through civil society organizations and without going through state institutions. France and the United Nations plan to organize a humanitarian support conference on the fourth of next month, the third since the explosion.
The current crisis seems likely to worsen with the approach of the first anniversary of the port explosion. The families of the victims have been carrying out angry popular movements for days, demanding that Parliament lift the immunity of three MPs, who previously held ministerial positions, and the authorities concerned with granting permission to prosecute security leaders, whom the judicial investigator requested to interrogate them in the port case.
The judiciary has not yet reached any conclusion about who bears responsibility for the disaster, knowing that the indications are clear that negligence and corruption played a major role in the explosion of randomly stored hazardous materials.