BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri on Thursday abandoned an attempt to form a government with rival groups including Hezbollah, stepping down as prime minister-designate and accusing opponents of blocking his efforts.
The Syria- and Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies rejected a draft unity government proposed by Hariri this week, more than 10 weeks after he was designated prime minister.
Hariri, a Saudi- and U.S.-backed billionaire businessman, said he had held “rounds and rounds of consultations which always ended in obstruction”. Leading opposition politician Gebran Bassil blamed Hariri for the failure.
Hariri announced his decision after a meeting with President Michel Suleiman, who must now call for consultations with lawmakers to designate a new prime minister.
Suleiman is obliged to nominate the candidate with the greatest support among lawmakers. Hariri, leader of the majority coalition in parliament, is expected to be picked once again.
Hariri’s coalition defeated Shi’ite Hezbollah and its allies in a June 7 parliamentary election.
“I have informed the President of the Republic that I have stepped down,” he said. Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni politician, said he hoped his move would allow a restart of “parliamentary consultations that will end in the formation of a new government … able to lead the country”. His failure has fuelled concern over the potential for another protracted political crisis in Lebanon, where power struggles have brought long periods of government paralysis and violence in recent years.
Hariri, 39, is son of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, whose assassination in 2005 pushed Lebanon into its worst internal crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
The rival alliances had agreed on the broad division of seats in the new cabinet but could not agree on the details of who should control which ministry. Hariri had refused to yield to the demands of Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun, leader of the biggest Christian bloc in parliament.
At the heart of the dispute was Aoun’s demand that his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, keep his job as telecoms minister.
The telecoms sector has long been slated for reforms, including the privatisation of two mobile phone firms.
“It is now clear to the Lebanese who is behind the delay,” Bassil told Reuters, in reference to Hariri. “The theatre of obstruction that lasted 73 days has finished today,” he said.
Analysts say extra pressure from influential regional states such as Saudi Arabia and Syria is needed to persuade their Lebanese allies to compromise.
The draft proposal put forward by Hariri this week gave two seats in the new cabinet to Hezbollah, a heavily armed group listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States.
The group, which has wide support among Lebanese Shi’ites, has one seat in the outgoing cabinet. The current government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, stays on in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet is formed.