Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been tasked with forming his fourth government, winning a slim majority of votes in parliament just under a year after his resignation amid mass-protests last year.
Hariri’s dramatic return was enabled by the votes of 65 MPs from across the country’s political spectrum, including his own Future Movement, the Shia Amal Movement, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist party, ostensibly secular but closely allied to Hezbollah, a Shia party with its own military wing.
Abstentions, numbering 53, also came from different political groups, including the Lebanese Forces, former Hariri allies who have been styling themselves as opposition, and their opponents the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), former coalition partners with Hariri before ties soured.
The Iran-back Hezbollah party also did not vote for Hariri, though they have been among the most enthusiastic proponents of his return since his resignation on October 29 last year.
Hariri always remained the strongest Sunni Muslim candidate to take the post, which must be held by a Sunni under a 77-year-old pact that gave the presidency to Maronite Christians and the position of Speaker of the House to a Shia Muslim.
In a short address following his designation, Hariri promised to form a government of non-partisan experts to implement economic and political reforms outlined in an initiative proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron during a September visit.
Hariri also promised to work to reconstruct Beirut from damage sustained in an August 4 explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in modern history, which killed 200 people, injured more than 6,500 and destroyed large parts of the city.
The blast caused up to $4.6bn in material damage and $3.2bn in associated economic losses, according to a World Bank assessment.
In a sign of Lebanon’s deep political crisis, Hariri is the third person to be tasked with forming a government this year, after little-known academic Hassan Diab – who succeeded in forming a government but resigned after the blast – and diplomat Mustafa Adib, who was unsuccessful.
As newly named prime minister, Hariri likely faces a difficult government formation process after Aoun on Wednesday indicated that he would “participate in the formation of a government, pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution.”
Aoun had postponed the consultations last week as the FPM, the party he founded that is now headed by his son-in-law, said they would not pick Hariri.
In the time since Hariri resigned, Lebanon’s economic and crisis has deepened and been compounded by the coronavirus. Then the blast dealt a new blow.