Lebanese officials held 11th-hour negotiations Monday over the formation of a new government, a process which hit snags over the weekend despite a looming deadline to deliver on a promise made to French President Emmanuel Macron.
The French leader has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a Cabinet made up of specialists that can work on enacting urgent reforms to extract Lebanon from a devastating economic and financial crisis worsened by the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut port.
The small, cash-strapped country is in desperate need of financial assistance but France and other international powers have refused to provide aid before serious reforms are made. The crisis is largely blamed on decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class.
During Macron’s Sept 1. visit to Lebanon, Lebanese politicians promised a new government would be formed within two weeks. With one day left before that deadline, Prime Minister-designate Moustapha Adib was expected to present his Cabinet lineup to President Michel Aoun on Monday. But instead, Adib only held further consultations with the president.
Adib’s French-supported efforts to form a government of experts without party loyalists hit snags the last few days, particularly after objections by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the powerful head of Lebanon’s Shiite Amal party.
Berri, an ally of the Shiite Hezbollah group, is insisting on retaining hold on the Finance Ministry. The insistence emerged after the US administration slapped sanctions on his top aide last week.
Macron held a telephone call with Berri on Saturday, during which the speaker reportedly insisted that the Finance Ministry is traditionally controlled by Shiites in Lebanon, according to his aides.
In a statement issued by his office later, Berri said he objected to the way the Cabinet formation was being undertaken. However, Berri said he would be supportive of any initiative to stabilize the nation.
A government opposed by Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups would find it difficult to pass a vote of confidence in parliament.
Adib, after meeting with Aoun on Monday, said he met the president for “further consultations” and “we hope for the best.”
Macron has visited Lebanon twice in less than a month, trying to force change on its leadership amid the crises and last month’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port.
The blast, caused by the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates stored for years there, killed more than 190 people and injuring around 6,500.