Lebanon PM-designate steps down amid impasse over gov’t formation

Mustapha Adib says he wants to recuse himself from ‘the task of forming the government’.

Lebanon's PM-designate Mustapha Adib gestures after announcing he is stepping down at the presidential palace in Baabda [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters] (Reuters)

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib has announced his resignation after his efforts to line up a non-partisan cabinet ran into trouble, particularly over who would run the finance ministry.

In a televised address on Saturday, Adib said he was stepping down from “the task of forming the government” following a meeting with President Michel Aoun.

Adib, a former ambassador to Berlin, was picked on August 31 to form a cabinet after the last government led by Hassan Diab resigned following the Beirut port blast on August 4 that killed some 200 people and left thousands homeless.

But the formation of a new government was hit by a logjam over the demand of two dominant Shia parties – Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal Movement – to name Shia ministers in the cabinet.

Shia leaders feared being sidelined as Adib, a Sunni Muslim, sought to shake up appointments to ministries, some of which have been controlled by the same faction for years, politicians said.

French efforts

Adib’s resignation came days after President Aoun told reporters Lebanon would be going to “hell” if a new government was not formed soon.

It also deals a blow to French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to break the political stalemate as Lebanon faces its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said Lebanon’s “different political parties [had] promised Macron the government would be in place by mid-September”.

“The Shia parties, Hezbollah and Amal, were intransigent, and insisted that they wanted the finance minister portfolio. They said that it belonged to their sect,” she said.

Khodr said Adib was “trying to create a government of experts … to handle the dire economic and financial crisis in the country”.

“But he faced a major stumbling block in Lebanon’s sectarian-based system of government,” she said.

Meanwhile, responding to Adib’s resignation, leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri on Saturday said anyone celebrating the failure of the French initiative to get Lebanon’s fractious leaders to form a new government will regret wasting the opportunity.

“We say to those who applaud the collapse of French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative today, that you will bite your fingers in regret,” he said in a statement.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who is the leader of the Shia Amal Movement, said his group would stick to the French initiative despite the prime minister-designate’s decision to step down.

“Our position is to stick to the French initiative and its content,” Berri said in a statement.

Public anger in Lebanon has escalated since the Beirut blast, which was blamed on the government’s apathy and inaction, leading to protests on the streets demanding urgent political and economic reforms.

Crushed by a mounting debt crisis, the country’s banks are paralysed and its currency is in freefall, leading to hyperinflation, soaring poverty and unemployment.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund on a vital bailout package stalled this year after the country defaulted on paying back its debt.

“The situation here is dire. Fifty-five percent of the population in a country of 5 million people lives below the poverty line. More than 30 percent of the people are unemployed,” Khodr said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies