In the hours leading up to veteran Lebanese politician Sa’ad Hariri’s visit to President Michel Aoun last week, hope was expressed that after 10 months of fruitless negotiations the struggling country would finally have a new government.
But when they met last Thursday, the two were unable to come to an agreement and Hariri resigned as prime minister-designate. Almost a year after the previous government resigned following a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, the country – plunged into a financial and economic crisis – is back to square one.
Other countries, led by France, have urged Beirut to choose a new prime minister. EU officials have even suggested using sanctions to push Lebanese leaders to put aside their differences and take action. But senior national and foreign officials recognize the depth of the crisis.
“There is a total incapacity of the Lebanese leaders to find a solution to the crisis which they created”, declared Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The international community has made the formation of a government a prerequisite for providing support to the nation, whose collapse was caused by decades of mismanagement and corruption that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
But despite the urgent need for an administration capable of pushing reform forward and negotiating a bailout with the IMF, analysts said a government was unlikely to be formed before this year’s parliamentary elections. next.
Even with international pressure, including two visits by French President Emmanuel Macron in the past year and the threat of sanctions, “the next deadline everyone seems to be focusing on is the parliamentary elections,” Sami Nader said. , director of the Levant based in Beirut. Institute of Strategic Affairs. “Any type of viable government will need [at least] three to four months to train, ”warned Nader. “On the Lebanese clock, it’s the best of times. “
Rafic Chlala, spokesman for Aoun, said further parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister-designate would not officially begin until the end of this week, after the religious holiday of Eid al-Adha. Chlala said he did not expect another long training process.
But ‘you can see that everyone [including Hariri] operates around elections, ”said an adviser, who asked that their political affiliation not be mentioned. It is “very possible” that there will not be a government until next May, the adviser said. They added, “No Sunni in Lebanon would dare at this point” to accept the role of prime minister designate, a post reserved for a Sunni Muslim under the national pact on the distribution of key offices.
Hariri, who has served as prime minister three times, is the most influential leader of the Sunni community thanks to his father Rafiq, the famous Lebanese prime minister of the post-civil war years. Rafiq was assassinated on Valentine’s Day 2005 in a plot orchestrated by members of Hezbollah, the paramilitary movement backed by Iran and allied with Syria, according to an international tribunal.
Not only does 2022 announce a general election, but Aoun’s six-year term will also expire, paving the way for further political chaos. In this context, politicians are reluctant to put themselves forward, to be punished by voters next year for their failures, analysts said.
The last elections of 2018 tipped the scales against Hariri, with gains for Hezbollah and its allies. A mass protest movement, which erupted in October 2019, revealed widespread disillusionment with established political parties, making the outcome of next year’s election difficult to predict.
It is also unclear whether an election will yield a successful result. There could still be tense negotiations over cabinet positions.
Hariri and Aoun blamed each other for the inability to finalize a government. Hariri said Aoun was blocking his constitutional right to choose his own ministers, while Aoun argued that Hariri was adamant.
For a country in the throes of hyperinflation with state institutions like the military warning that they are on the verge of collapse, the danger is that it cannot wait long. Donors are now reluctant to hand over funds to a political elite accused by protesters of widespread corruption, preferring to focus their aid on critical institutions such as the Lebanese Armed Forces.
Paris has scheduled another aid conference for August 4, the anniversary of the explosion that killed more than 200 people. Emissaries from Paris, Washington and Riyadh held talks on Lebanon this month, signaling a united front.
Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank director for the Mashreq region which covers Lebanon, said the international community was showing “good solidarity with the Lebanese people, [as] they want to be able to help ”. He added that the focus was on providing life-saving aid.
The World Bank is focused on a $ 246 million project to help 200,000 “extremely poor households” in Lebanon with cash, the kind of social safety net that the government, which has defaulted on its debt. last year, does not have the resources to get started. But this program has already been delayed for four months, said Kumar Jha. Lebanese lawmakers disagreed with the bank on the approach to monitor how money is paid out and how families are selected.
Kumar Jha said he “hoped” that a credible government could be formed soon to clean up Lebanon’s banks and secure basic supplies such as electricity. But he added: “[T]hey can’t afford to waste a day.