Uncertainty shrouds formation of a new government in Lebanon

It is not clear whether Samir Khatib, the latest front-runner to be prime minister, will make it to nomination.
Sunday 08/12/2019
Police stand guard in front of the government house in Beirut. (AP)
No through road. Police stand guard in front of the government house in Beirut. (AP)

BEIRUT - Although Lebanese President Michel Aoun fixed a date for long-delayed mandatory consultations with parliament blocs to nominate the next prime minister, ambiguity shrouds the formation of a government in Lebanon.

Consultations were to formally begin December 9, the presidency announced, more than a month after nationwide anti-government protests led to Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation.

Aoun had stopped short of announcing formal talks to agree on a new lineup as key partners in the fractious outgoing governing coalition had apparently insisted on reaching a deal before. However, it is uncertain whether Samir Khatib, the latest front-runner to be prime minister, will receive the nomination.

“Although the consultations are scheduled, it is still impossible to predict assertively if a new prime minister would be nominated,” said Nabil Bou Monsef, a political analyst with Lebanon’s leading newspaper An-Nahar. “The political scene is still vague. We are stuck in a unique crisis never experienced before.”

“Regardless of how qualified Khatib might be, I don’t believe he has the most suitable profile to head the government at this very critical time.”

Khatib, a prominent contractor and successful businessman with no experience in politics, is among names that surfaced since Hariri’s resignation October 29. Khatib’s possible nomination triggered scorn and anger from protesters who fear he is part of a cosmetic cabinet change that would still be dominated by the ruling elite, which they accuse of corruption and pushing the country to near economic collapse.

Protesters demand the wholesale removal of the current political class and have insisted on an independent government composed of technocrats.

Pierre Issa, secretary-general of the National Bloc party, cast doubt about Khatib’s nomination, which he said would further provoke the protesters.

“For the past 50 days, the protesters have been calling for an independent administration to no avail. There are two options: either they nominate the suitable person who can help pull out Lebanon from the crisis or one who is convenient to them to continue running the country but the latter option won’t work,” said Issa, whose party is active in the protests.

Protesters were expected to escalate their action to try to abort Khatib’s possible nomination, Issa said, adding: “I believe that another candidate would be put forward or the consultations would be postponed.”

“There is only one solution that will be imposed by the pressing economic and financial crisis. [That is] an independent government of experts who should be capable to deliver focusing on four issues: a social security network for the most impoverished classes, ending public money waste, stopping corruption and downsizing the inflated public administration.”

Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in decades with one of the world’s highest debt ratios, high unemployment and an expected contraction in the economy in 2020. Local banks imposed capital control measures unseen before in the country known for its free-market economy.

At least three people, including an unemployed, debt-ridden Lebanese father of two, committed suicide in a week, infuriating protesters who linked the deaths to the worsening financial situation.

Prices of basic goods, such as olive oil and cheese, have been increasing and the Lebanese pound, officially traded at about 1,500 pounds to the dollar, passed 2,000 pounds to the dollar on the black market.