Lebanon’s leaders agree on new prime minister before Macron visit

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Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib is set to be designated prime minister on Monday ahead of a visit to Beirut by the French president who will press for long-delayed reforms to steer the Middle East nation out of its deep crisis.

Emmanuel Macron, who arrives late on Monday for his second visit in less than a month, has spearheaded international efforts to get Lebanon’s fractious leaders to tackle the root causes of a financial meltdown that devastated the economy even before the Aug. 4 port blast killed 190 people.

With the economy on its knees, a swathe of Beirut in tatters and sectarian tensions rising, the former French protectorate is facing the biggest threat to its stability since a 1975-90 civil war.

Senior Lebanese officials said Macron’s mediation was essential in securing agreement on a candidate in the 48 hours before consensus emerged on Adib. Last week, they were in complete deadlock who would be the next premier.

Adib’s name surfaced on Sunday when he was nominated by former prime ministers, including Saad al-Hariri who heads Lebanon’s biggest Sunni Muslim party. The post of prime minister must go to a Sunni under Lebanon’s sectarian system.

Adib, who has been envoy to Berlin since 2013 and was adviser to a former prime minister, was set for an overwhelming majority of lawmakers.

Hariri’s Future Movement, the powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite party Hezbollah and the Progressive Socialist Party led by Druze politician Walid Jumblatt were among the first groups to nominate Adib in formal consultations hosted by President Michel Aoun on Monday.

Aoun, a Maronite Christian, must designate the candidate with greatest support among lawmakers. Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement will also nominate Adib.

The Lebanese Forces, a Christian group, looked like it would be the only major party not to support him. It backed another ambassador, Nawaf Salam, a choice strongly opposed by Hezbollah.

On top of the economic crisis, sectarian tensions erupted last week in a deadly shootout between Sunni and Shi’ites south of Beirut.

KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE

Macron, who meets Lebanese politicians in Beirut on Tuesday, made a series of phone calls to Lebanese leaders at the weekend that were vital to securing the consensus on Adib.

“It was the pressure of his calls to everyone, the pressure of his coming to Lebanon, the pressure of everyone not wanting to upset him,” a senior Lebanese politician said, adding that “no one can afford a long process” to agree a new government.

In the past, forming a new government has taken months of political horse trading.

A French presidency source said Macron’s demands “are clear: a government of mission, clean, efficient, able to implement the necessary reforms in Lebanon and therefore able to receive strong international support”.

With the backing of Hariri and Jumblatt, both influential players, Adib will enjoy more support than Hassan Diab who quit with his government on Aug. 10 after the port blast. Diab was nominated by Hezbollah and its allies who together have a parliamentary majority.

Hariri called for the quick formation of a government of specialist ministers under Adib, who has a doctorate in law and political science.

Donor states want to see Lebanon address state corruption and waste, the root causes of the financial crisis.

Lebanon won pledges of more than $11 billion in support at a Paris conference in 2018 conditional on reforms that it failed to carry out, such as fixing an electricity sector that bleeds state funds yet still fails supply 24-hour power.

Once designated, the process of forming a new government will start. Until a new administration is agreed, the outgoing government continues in a caretaker capacity.

Lebanon’s financial crisis has sunk the currency by as much as 80% since October, locked savers out of their deposits in a paralysed banking system and fuelled poverty and unemployment.

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