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Uncertainty, confusion after Hariri bows out of PM race.

Summary: Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri Wednesday bowed out of the premiership race

BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri Wednesday bowed out of the premiership race, throwing the protest-hit country into uncertainty and confusion and sending political rivals scrambling to search for an alternative candidate. Hariri's dramatic move came on the eve of much-delayed binding parliamentary consultations to designate a prime minister, seven weeks after he quit as premier under pressure of massive nationwide street protests demanding an overhaul of the country's decades-old sectarian system, as well as of a political class they deemed corrupt and incompetent.

Hariri cited differences between him and other parties - President Michel Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah - over the shape of the next government, as the reason for his decision, reiterating his demand for a government of technocrats independent from political parties.

"Since I submitted my resignation 50 days ago in response to the call of the Lebanese people, I have strived to meet their demands of a government of technocrats that I considered to be the only one capable of solving the serious social and economic crisis facing our country," Hariri said in a statement released by his media office.

"Having realized that, despite my firm commitment to form a government of technocrats, the positions that have emerged in the past few days on the issue of my designation are incommutable, I announce that I will not be a candidate to form the next government," Hariri said, adding: "I will participate tomorrow [Thursday] in the parliamentary consultations on this basis, with my insistence that they are not postponed under any pretext whatsoever."

The outgoing premier called on the Future Movement's parliamentary bloc to meet Thursday morning to decide its position on the issue of naming a candidate for prime minister.

"The parliamentary consultations to choose a prime minister will be held on time Thursday morning," a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

Declaring that Hariri's withdrawal from the premiership race has led to "a reshuffle of cards," the source said: "Any candidate who gains the greatest votes of parliamentary blocs will be designated by the president to form a new government." Binding parliamentary consultations had been slated for Monday after being postponed on Dec. 9.

Nevertheless, President Aoun announced Monday that he had postponed the consultations for the second time until Thursday at Hariri's request in order to allow for more time for discussions on the government formation. But this resulted in a war of words between Hariri on the one hand and Aoun and the FPM, which he founded, on the other, over charges of violating the Constitution.

In requesting the postponement of Monday's parliamentary consultations that would have led to his reappointment as prime minster, Hariri had cited the lack of "weighty Christian support" for his designation after the FPM's parliamentary Strong Lebanon bloc said it would not nominate him, while the Lebanese Forces' Strong Republic parliamentary bloc said it would refrain from naming anyone for prime minister.

Since his resignation on Oct. 29, Hariri has insisted on the formation of a government of "specialists" or "technocrats," a key demand of the protesters, saying otherwise he preferred to bow out.

But Aoun, the FPM, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah have all been pushing for a techno-political government representing the political parties as well as the protest movement.

Commenting on Hariri's announcement that he was no longer a candidate for the premiership, caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the FPM head, said in a statement released by his media office: "This is a positive step which we wish to be followed by Prime Minister Hariri proposing a trustworthy and capable person in order to work to reach consensus on him and reach understanding with him on the formation of a government that enjoys the people's confidence and the support of weighty parliamentary blocs, in addition to the trust of the Arab and international communities, without taking the country and the people to the unknown like what happened with his latest resignation."

Bassil criticized Hariri for requesting at one time that the binding parliamentary consultations be postponed and at another that they not be postponed, as it suited his private interest.

"This is the sole prerogative of the president who uses it because he has been entrusted with the public interest and the Constitution," Bassil said.

The Future bloc is inclined not to nominate any candidate during the parliamentary consultations, local media outlets reported.

With Hariri out of the premiership race, the names of former ministers Khaled Qabbani and Hassan Diab and Judge Nawaf Salam have emerged as possible candidates.

Nawaf Salam, Lebanon's former representative at the United Nations, was reported to have been rejected by the Amal Movement and Hezbollah for his alleged close connections with the United States. The three parties were consulting on Qabbani and Diab.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, urged all the parties to make concessions, saying that the formation of a new government had become fundamental for the country's survival.

"Since the Cabinet issue has become an entity issue, it should be approached by making concessions," Berri was quoted as saying during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

"Parliamentary consultations must be held at their normal place through constitutional institutions and not through rekindling struggles and street clashes. We call on everyone to work to eliminate all factors of [Cabinet formation] obstruction and not to belittle the gravity of the situation," the speaker said.

His remarks came a day after he met with Hariri to discuss a solution to the Cabinet crisis.

Berri was reported to have presented Hariri with two proposals to break the deadlock: The formation of an 18-member Cabinet that includes six politicians and the rest technocrats, and a 14-member Cabinet that includes only four politicians.

Berri warned against attempts to incite sectarian strife. "We will give orders to commit suicide rather give orders to strife. We call on security and judicial agencies to do their job in prosecuting those who incite and rekindle strife," Berri added.

Berri was apparently referring to Monday's clashes between a group of men believed to be supporters of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, and security forces after a video emerged with insults against Shiite religious figures and the two parties' leaders.

The Cabinet deadlock comes as Lebanon is facing its worst economic and financial crisis since the 1975-90 Civil War, as well as an unprecedented popular uprising, now in its third month.

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Author:Hussein Dakroub
Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Dec 19, 2019
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