France has backed a proposal made by Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, to end a deadlock preventing the formation of a cabinet to lead the nation out of its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Paris has been pressing Lebanese politicians to form a government quickly but the process hit a logjam over a demand by Lebanon’s two main Shia parties that they name several ministers, including the finance minister.
Hariri proposed in a statement on Tuesday that prime minister-designate Mustapha Adib, a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon’s system of power-sharing, name an “independent” Shia candidate to the finance portfolio.
Lebanon’s problems were compounded by a devastating explosion on August 4 at Beirut port. Subsequent fires in and around the area and Tuesday’s blast in south Lebanon have further rattled the nation.
It was not immediately clear whether the two main Shia groups, Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal Movement, would back Hariri’s idea. Pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar was critical of the proposal.
A Shia Muslim politician picked by the Amal chief has run the finance ministry for years. Adib aimed to shake up ministerial posts.
The French Foreign Ministry welcomed on Wednesday the “courageous declaration” by Hariri. “This declaration represents an opening and all parties should understand its importance so that a government of mission can now be established,” it said.
President Michel Aoun, a Christian allied to Hezbollah, said on Monday Lebanon was going “to hell” if it could not form a government to tackle the crisis that has paralysed the banks, sent Lebanon’s pound into freefall and plunged many into poverty.
Hariri, traditionally aligned to the Gulf Arab states, said his idea was to name “a finance minister from the Shia party, who would be independent” but added this did not mean he accepted that the post should always be held by a member of Shia political parties.
France had said on Tuesday Lebanon risked collapse if politicians did not form a cabinet quickly after they missed a mid-September deadline agreed with Paris.
“At this decisive moment in Lebanese history, Lebanese political forces are faced with a choice between recovery and collapse of the country. It is a heavy responsibility towards the Lebanese,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.