Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri says he is “pretty sure” of a new national unity government by the end of the year after seven months of wrangling over the allocation of ministerial posts.
Speaking at Chatham House think-tank in London on Thursday, Hariri said negotiations over the formation of a new government were in “the last 100 meters” and that “hopefully we should form it before the end of the year”.
“I am pretty sure by the end of the year we will have a government,” Hariri said.
“I think the pressure that we have from the economic crisis … is pushing more and more people to form the government.”
Heavily indebted and with a stagnant economy, Lebanon desperately needs a new government to implement economic reforms to put its public finances on a more sustainable footing and unlock foreign aid.
Seven months after a general election, Lebanese leaders are still at odds over how to parcel out cabinet positions among rival groups according to its confessional political system that allocates government positions according to sect.
The final hurdle to a deal has been Sunni representation, with six Sunni legislators aligned with the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah group, demanding a cabinet seat to reflect their gains in the election.
Hariri, whose family has long dominated Lebanese Sunni politics, has ruled out giving up one of his cabinet seats for them.
President Michel Aoun this week said he had launched a new effort to forge an agreement and that he had to get involved to avoid “catastrophe” – an apparent reference to the economy.
Analysts believe one compromise could be for Aoun to nominate one of the Hezbollah-aligned Sunnis, or a figure acceptable to them, among a group of ministers named by the president.
“I believe that most of the obstacles were resolved. There is still one obstacle and I am sure that we are able to resolve it,” Hariri said.
Lebanon’s economy has often seemed to be on the brink of collapse, but a Paris conference, dubbed CEDRE, in April this year earned the country $11bn in aid pledges.
France last week warned that Lebanon risked heavy losses if the unprecedented solidarity expressed by donors was to fizzle out.
“The lack of a government in Lebanon means running the risk that this dynamic in the international community is lost,” said France’s ambassador to Lebanon, Bruno Foucher.
“That moment could pass,” he said. “There are other countries that may need international assistance.”