BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has postponed by a week consultations aimed at choosing a prime minister to form a new government to tackle the country’s worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war, the presidency said on Wednesday.
Aoun had been due to hold the consultations on Thursday and was expected to assess whether Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri could rally support of a majority of parliamentarians to try to form a new government.
However two prominent Christian politicians had indicated in the last 24 hours that they had reservations about nominating Hariri, who resigned as prime minister a year ago after mass protests.
The country has plunged into financial turmoil and seen the value of the Lebanese pound collapse. The COVID-19 pandemic and a huge explosion at Beirut’s port two months ago compounded the crisis and pushed many Lebanese into poverty.
French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a roadmap that could unlock billions of dollars of international aid, conditional on major reforms which Hariri pledged to support.
The Lebanese presidency said Aoun was delaying the planned consultations on nominating a new premier until Oct. 22, citing requests “from some parliamentary blocs due to difficulties emerging that need to be solved”.
However, the head of the Shi’ite Amal party and parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri opposes any delay in the consultations, his office said in a statement released minutes after the presidency’s announcement.
Earlier on Wednesday Samir Geagea, whose Lebanese Forces party has the second biggest Christian bloc in parliament, said the party would not nominate anyone to be the new prime minister at official consultations to fill the post.
On Tuesday Gebran Bassil, who heads the country’s largest Christian bloc, the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies, criticised Hariri for seeking to form a government pledged to implement Macron’s plan.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Dominic Evans; Editing by Franklin Paul and Tom Brown)