Lebanon’s prime minister designate resigned on Saturday morning, saying he was unable to form a crisis government to pull the country out of economic disaster, despite pressure to do so from former ruling power France.
The struggling Mediterranean country is being crushed by the worst economic crisis in its modern history and tackling the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion in August that killed more than 190 people and caused up to an estimated $4.6bn worth of damage.
Former diplomat Mustapha Adib was appointed at the end of August, with the backing of major political blocs and the momentum of a so-called French initiative to form a government that would implement speedy reforms.
But he was unable to corral Beirut’s fractious politicians into appointing a cabinet of technical experts to steer the country through its financial, economic and monetary crises, which have pushed more than half the population into poverty and triggered many Lebanese to seek to emigrate.
“The political consensus on forming a government in Lebanon no longer exists,” said Mr Adib, in comments carried by local media, as he submitted his resignation to Lebanon’s president Michel Aoun.
The previous government, led by Hassan Diab, stepped down in the face of public fury over the disaster, caused by a dangerous store of explosive-grade ammonium nitrate that had been left in a port warehouse.
The international community has said it will not give Beirut money for reconstruction and economic rescue unless its politicians show they will reform the notoriously wasteful state. Corruption and neglect are widely regarded as the root cause of the port catastrophe.
During his second post-blast visit to Beirut at the start of September, French president Emmanuel Macron admitted he was taking a political risk by pushing for speedy government formation.
He gave Lebanon’s parties 15 days to nominate a cabinet of independent experts, saying if this was achieved he would convene a second international pledging conference one month later.
Paris and Beirut have deep ties: France ruled Lebanon for around two decades after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, before Lebanon became independent in 1943.
Yet despite pressure to move away from the confessional system, the religiously based political parties have engaged in their traditional haggling over control of ministries.
Political insiders across the spectrum say that Amal, the majority Shia party, is insisting that the finance ministry is headed by a Shia. The impasse has dragged on for weeks.
Since the end of its devastating 15-year civil war in 1990, Lebanon has shared power between its different religious sects. The premiership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim, the parliamentary speaker for a Shia, and the presidency for a Christian.
Critics say the system has instituted clientelism and patronage networks that have hollowed out the state and brought the country to the brink of collapse.
The finance ministry is the key government body in bailout talks with the IMF. Securing an IMF programme would unlock more external financial support.