Hariri: I am the natural candidate for PM

The ex-PM stressed that the French initiative was still alive in Lebanon, despite there being no indication that political blocs were converging around a favorite to head the next government

  
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT: Ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri Thursday declared that he was open to taking on his former position once again, saying that he was a “natural candidate” to head the next government.

“I am the natural candidate for prime minister,” Hariri said, adding that he would consult divided political parties to see whether they would agree to implement France-backed reforms, which he sees as the "only and fastest way to rebuild Beirut."

“If all agree, I won’t close the door,” he said, speaking to television presenter Marcel Ghanem on his weekly political talk show “Sar el Waet.” Hariri, saying that the only way out of Lebanon’s economic crisis was through the International Monetary Fund program, asked Lebanon’s fractious politicians to “think carefully not to miss this opportunity.”

The ex-PM stressed that the French initiative was still alive in Lebanon, despite there being no indication that political blocs were converging around a favorite to head the next government and lead the country out of crisis. “The French initiative has not fallen,” Hariri affirmed.

He warned that if no solution was found to the economic crisis, he feared another civil war, citing escalating violence in the streets, the most recent being clashes between two heavily armed clans in the Baalbeck-Hermel area this week.

“Every trend indicates the collapse of the state,” he said.

During Macron’s Sept. 1 visit to Lebanon, Lebanese politicians said they would form a new government within 15 days, a deadline which has long since passed. French officials have repeatedly urged Lebanon’s political groups to work in unison to form a government and tackle the country’s worst ever economic crisis.

“When [President Emmanuel] Macron came to Lebanon, I agreed with him on the formation of a mission government for six months, whose mission would have been to stop the collapse and rebuild Beirut,” Hariri said, adding that political forces refused to nominate him.

Lebanon has been left without a government after Prime-Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib stepped down on Sept. 26 after attempts to form a small 14-member Cabinet foundered over who controls the Finance Ministry, and differences over a rotation of the sectarian leadership of the other three sovereign ministries: Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs.

Despite disagreement over the government’s shape and size, Hariri revealed that a government with rotating sectarian leadership of the ministries had been Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s idea at the time when former Prime Minister Tammam Salam's government was formed.

“Is the Finance portfolio worth torpedoing the rescue initiative to halt the collapse and reconstruct Beirut?” Hariri asked. He later added that he would accept give the Finance Ministry to a Shiite candidate.

Hariri took the opportunity to ask Hezbollah to make concessions for the sake of the Lebanese people. “The Lebanese people are not responsible for the sanctions that are imposed on them [Hezbollah] and they have to make concessions," he said.

Hariri held recent US sanctions responsible for the changing of attitudes toward the French initiative. The US in September placed sanctions on two former Hezbollah affiliated ministers -- the Amal Movement’s Ali Hasan Khalil and the Marada movement’s Youssef Fenianos.

“All the positive attitudes that existed in the country after the French initiative hardened after the imposition of sanctions,” Hariri said.

President Michel Aoun Wednesday set Oct. 15 as the date he would hold binding consultations with parliamentary blocs to choose a new prime minister-designate. The Oct. 15 consultations will take place over one day, with former prime ministers Saad Hariri, Tamam Salam and Najib Mikati meeting Aoun separately in the morning.

The consultations at Baabda Palace will take place more than two months after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned over the deadly Aug. 4 port blast, and 19 days after Adib stepped down saying he was unable to break the stalemate over the shape of the new government.

Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government resigned less than a week after the catastrophic explosion, the result of the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored haphazardly at the Beirut Port for six years.

“I think that the main reason for the explosion at the port was negligence,” Hariri said.

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