Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri on Wednesday withdrew as a candidate to become prime minister of a new government, leaving no obvious alternative to head a cabinet that must tackle the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Hariri, the country’s leading Sunni politician, took himself out of the running on the eve of formal consultations to pick a prime minister, a post reserved for a Sunni in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.
Since Hariri quit as premier in late October, Lebanon’s main parties have feuded over forming a new government which the country badly needs. Foreign donors say they will only help after there is a cabinet that can enact reforms.
Hariri, aligned with Western and Gulf states, resigned under pressure from huge protests against a ruling elite that has steered the country towards crisis.
He was expected this week to be named PM, a post he has held three times. The consultations, which political rifts had delayed, require President Michel Aoun to designate the candidate with the most support among Lebanon’s 128 MPs.
“I announce that I will not be a candidate to form the coming government,” Hariri, who has stayed on in a caretaker capacity, said in a statement.
“It has become clear that despite my absolute commitment to forming a government of specialists,” others would not change their positions, he said.
Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah and its allies, including the Christian FPM party founded by Aoun, have rejected Hariri’s demand to head a government of expert ministers. Instead, they have sought a cabinet mixing both technocrats and politicians.
Hariri added he would take part in Thursday’s consultations and insisted they go ahead but did not say who he would nominate. His Future party is due to meet on Thursday to make a decision on its PM choice.
FPM Chief Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law, deemed Hariri’s move “responsible” and said he hoped Hariri would propose “a trusted figure” for the various sides to agree on.
A series of compromise deals attempting to reach consensus on other candidates for the PM job have already unravelled.
With the endorsement of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim religious establishment, Hariri had re-emerged this week as the only frontrunner despite political tensions and despite saying before that he did not want the job.
But when the Lebanese Forces party said it would nominate neither Hariri nor anyone else, it meant he would not have the backing of either of the two main Christian parties.