Lebanon crisis

Lebanon’s President Aoun questions next Prime Minister-designate's reform capability

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Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday he would fulfill his duty in designating a prime minister but put the onus on the new premier to launch moves to pull the country from financial crisis.

Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri is poised to be named prime minister at formal consultations on Thursday after weeks of wrangling, political sources said. But he would face major challenges to overcome discord and form a new government that can tackle a meltdown deepening by the day.

In a televised speech, Aoun blamed other officials for blocking a long list of urgent reforms demanded by foreign donors. He questioned what had happened to plans ranging from a forensic audit of the central bank and an overhaul of the power sector to draft laws and IMF talks.

He accused others of “putting barricades” in his way, without naming anyone.

Fractious political leaders, in power for decades, have traded blamed for hindering progress as Lebanon sinks into its worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.

The country desperately needs cash. But foreign donors have made clear they will not bail out the heavily indebted state if it does not tackle entrenched waste and graft.

A COVID-19 outbreak and a huge August blast at Beirut port, which killed nearly 200 people and prompted the cabinet to resign, have also piled misery on the Lebanese.

“Where are all the (steps) that were presented to the heads of (parliamentary) blocs and parties....but nothing was implemented?” Aoun asked on Wednesday.

“The silence of any official, and lack of cooperation in the forensic audit (of the central bank), prove he is a partner in corruption and waste,” he added.

Aoun is due to hold consultations on Thursday with parliamentary blocs, postponed from last week amid political rifts.

The two main Christian parties, the Free Patriotic Movement - founded by Aoun and headed by his son in law - and the Lebanese Forces led by a civil war rival of Aoun, have said they would not nominate Hariri.

Senior political sources say Hariri should still get a narrow majority of votes from parliament’s lawmakers, among which the Iran-backed, Shiite Hezbollah and its allies hold a majority.

“I will shoulder my responsibility,” Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said on Wednesday. He is required to choose the candidate with greatest support. “Will the one who is designated and tasked with forming (a cabinet) commit to tackling corruption and launching a reform project?”

Former colonial power France has sought since August to rally Lebanese politicians to tackle the crisis but they have yet to manage the first step: agreeing a new government swiftly.

A former prime minister long aligned with Gulf states, Hariri has presented himself as the candidate to form a cabinet that can kick-start the French roadmap.

Hariri quit as PM - a post he has already held three times - when the crisis erupted last year as protests against the ruling elite gripped the country, toppling his coalition government.

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