Lebanese president calls on PM to form Cabinet immediately


BEIRUT — Lebanon’s president called Wednesday on the prime minister-designate to form a government immediately or step aside as the country plunges deeper into economic crisis.

President Michel Aoun said in a televised statement that Cabinet lists proposed by Saad Hariri, who was named to the post of premier last October, did not meet the minimum requirements needed to preserve national accord.

Aoun urged Hariri to meet him at the presidential palace and work together on forming a government or step aside if they cannot agree. The call seems an attempt to deflect blame for months-long political battle in which both sides have traded accusations of obstruction.

Aoun is an ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group. Hariri, who has worked closely with Hezbollah before, is locked in a power struggle with Aoun’s political party and is under pressure to exclude Hezbollah from a future Cabinet.

Underscoring Lebanon’s complicated balancing act, Hezbollah says it backs Hariri — even as he loses international support amid frustration over the stalemate.

Legally, a president cannot dismiss a premier-designate, chosen by Parliament. It is unclear what would break the stalemate. According to the constitution, the president could suggest names to the prime minister-designate, who is ultimately responsible for forming a Cabinet.

“Shock after shock, each day brings its burdens and worries, and the concern grows because of the inability to have the simplest means for an honorable life,” Aoun said.

Amid the political blame-trading, Lebanon’s local currency continues to crash, losing over 90% of its value since October 2019. The economic crisis is the gravest challenge to the small country’s stability since the civil war ended in 1990, and has pushed nearly half the population into poverty.

Banks have imposed informal controls on people’s savings, and the Central Bank’s foreign reserves are dwindling in a country dependent on imports of over 80% of its basic needs. Desperate and enraged, Lebanese protesters have turned to the streets to demand a way out of the crisis as prices soar and goods disappear from the market.

But public anger has not spilled into nationwide protests similar to those in 2019 even as Lebanon is being gripped by multiple crises, including a surge in coronavirus infections and pressure on the health sector.

The outgoing government resigned last August, following a massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed 211 people, wounded more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital.

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