Lebanon; Hariri says he is in the running to head a new government

Saad Hariri who resigned last year amid protests said he ‘will not close the door on the only hope left for Lebanon’.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) gestures as he welcomes Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Elysee Presidential Palace on November 18, 2017 in Paris. Hariri is in Paris at the invitation of France's President who is attempting to help broker a solution to a political crisis that has raised fears over Lebanon's fragile democracy. / AFP PHOTO / BERTRAND GUAY

Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he was a possible candidate to head a new government to stem the country’s economic collapse after a massive port explosion.

French President Emmanuel Macron last month extracted a pledge from all political sides in the former French protectorate to back speedy government formation as part of a road map out of the crisis, but efforts so far have failed. Macron has said a reform-minded cabinet was essential if aid were to flow in to rebuild the country.

“I am definitely a candidate” to head the next government, Hariri said during a live interview on the MTV television channel.

“I will not close the door on the only hope left for Lebanon to stem this collapse,” he said.

The country is mired in its worst economic crunch in decades, and still reeling from a devastating explosion in Beirut on August 4.

The explosion of a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s only port killed some 200 people, wounded thousands more and ravaged buildings in surrounding residential neighbourhoods, leaving at least 300,000 people homeless.

President Michel Aoun is to hold parliamentary consultations on naming a new prime minister on Thursday next week.

Hariri said he was ready to start making phone calls during the coming week “if all political teams still agree on the programme” discussed with Macron.

The former prime minister stepped down under street pressure last year after mass protests erupted demanding the overhaul of a political class accused of being inept and corrupt.

The government that followed, headed by Hassan Diab, resigned in the wake of the Beirut blast.

The next prime minister-designate, Mustapha Adib, last month bowed out just weeks after being nominated, after his efforts to hammer out a cabinet were blocked by the country’s two main Shia political parties – Hezbollah and Amal – seeking to keep the finance ministry under their control.

Forming a government can drag on for months in multi-confessional Lebanon, where a power-sharing agreement seeks to maintain a fragile balance between all sides.

But Hariri said all political sides had agreed with Macron, who visited Beirut twice in the wake of the blast, to set aside their differences for six months to save the country from further deterioration.

“Every political side can invent a problem to government formation,” Hariri said.

“But if the political parties really want to stem the collapse and rebuild Beirut, they must follow the French initiative,” he said.