Lebanon's Hariri on course to be named PM for fourth term
BEIRUT - Lebanon's former premier Saad al-Hariri appeared on course to be nominated for a fourth term as prime minister on Thursday and try to form a new government to tackle the country's deepest crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
Hariri needs to win the most support from parliamentarians who were holding a series of meetings with President Michel Aoun, after weeks of political wrangling that has delayed agreement on a new government.
If nominated, Hariri would still face major challenges to navigate Lebanon's fractious power-sharing political landscape and form a cabinet. His coalition government was toppled late last year as mass protests erupted against the ruling elite.
Hariri, Lebanon's leading Sunni Muslim politician, was backed by his own Future lawmakers, Druze politician Walid Jumblatt's party and other small blocs. The powerful Shiite group Hezbollah said it was not nominating anyone, but said it would seek to facilitate the process.
"We will contribute to maintain the positive climate," Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, told reporters after its MPs met Aoun at the presidential palace.
Any new government will have to contend with a financial meltdown worsening by the day, a COVID-19 outbreak and the fallout of the massive explosion at Beirut port that killed nearly 200 people in August.
Former colonial power France sought in August to rally Lebanon's sectarian leaders to tackle the crisis, but has been frustrated by the apparent lack of political urgency or progress.
Former prime minister Tammam Salam, speaking to reporters after meeting Aoun, said he backed Hariri and that the next government faced the challenge to "save the country from the deterioration and great collapse" which it had reached.
Hariri did not speak to journalists after seeing Aoun.
Long aligned with Western and Gulf states, Hariri has presented himself as the candidate to build a new cabinet that can revive French efforts. The roadmap by Paris had set out milestones for enacting reforms to unlock foreign aid Lebanon badly needs.
Thursday's consultations were postponed from last week amid political rifts. Aoun is required to choose the candidate with the most support from parliament's lawmakers, among which Iran-backed Hezbollah and its political allies have a majority.