Lebanon’s political leaders are expected to launch parliamentary consultations to choose a new prime minister after Hassan Diab’s government resigned over the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port.
The nomination process by parliament’s various factions will be a litmus test of whether the August 4 port disaster marks an inflection point in Lebanese politics, or a continuation of decades of corrupt, inept rule.
One name being bandied about in the media is Nawaf Salam, a former ambassador to the United Nations who currently serves as a judge at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. His candidacy could go some way to reassuring an outraged Lebanese public demanding an end to the graft and sectarianism that have crippled their country.
But the Hezbollah group that heavily influences Lebanon’s economy and politics perceives him as being too close to the Americans and the UN. Diab’s predecessor, Saad Hariri, who governed for three years until January 2020, has said he doesn’t want to be prime minister again at this point.
Local media reported that Lebanese leaders — who in the past have kept the country rudderless for months while they bickered over a candidate — are eager to wrap up the nomination process quickly so they don’t have a vacuum during these difficult times. The blast, which killed at least 160 people and left a trail of destruction across miles of Beirut, came atop the country’s worst political and financial crisis in decades.
Diab will continue in a caretaker capacity until a new governing coalition is formed. It’s not clear how long that will take in a nation where political divisions mean talks can drag out for months, or whether a caretaker government could conclude any deal with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout or secure international aid.
In a speech announcing the government’s resignation after just seven months in office, Diab accused a corrupt political elite of sabotaging his
administration.“Each minister gave it their all,” he said.
“But some people only care about scoring political points. Their corruption has led to this disaster.”
Diab had failed to deliver on the demands of protesters who have taken to the streets since October seeking change, nor had he advanced talks with donor countries and the IMF for billions of dollars in aid that a country drowning in debt so badly needs.
Anger has surged in a nation already grimly familiar with decades of governmental malfeasance as it coped with the aftermath of a blast caused by 2,750 tons of explosive materials left for six years at the country’s main port, in spite of repeated safety warnings.
“We need to move forward with the reforms, structural
reforms, not just normal reforms,” said Yassine Jaber, member of the Lebanese parliament. “There has been resistance in the political scene for implementing these reforms. I think from here onwards, if this resistance persists, I think the country cannot delay doing these reforms anymore and a total collapse is on the cards,” he said on a Bloomberg TV interview on Tuesday.
Even before the explosion, the government was barely functioning, unable to regularly collect trash or keep electricity flowing, let alone haul the country out of its worst crisis since the 15-year civil war ended in 1990.