Lebanon’s president did not mean to revoke Hariri’s mandate, son-in-law says

Lebanese President Michel Aoun did not intend to revoke prime minister designate Saad al-Hariri’s mandate when he wrote to parliament last week declaring that Hariri could not form a government, Aoun’s son-in-law said on Saturday.

Veteran Sunni Muslim politician Hariri was nominated in October to form a cabinet after Hassan Diab’s government resigned following a Beirut port explosion which killed 200 people and damaged large swathes of the capital.

But Hariri and Aoun have been at loggerheads for months over cabinet positions, blocking the formation of a government that is needed to enact reforms and unlock foreign aid as Lebanon hurtles towards economic collapse.

Diab and his cabinet have stayed on in a caretaker capacity.

Aoun’s letter, read out to parliament on Friday, was seen by some politicians as an effective declaration that someone else would have to be found to take the role of prime minister.

But Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian bloc, said removing Hariri was not Aoun’s aim.

“The purpose is not to take back the designation from the prime minister-designate,” Bassil told a session of parliament convened to discuss the letter.

At the same parliamentary session, Hariri said the letter was Aoun’s way of telling parliament “you have named this prime minister, I don’t want him, go ahead and rid me of him.”

Lebanon’s foreign reserves are running out and fuel shortages, power cuts and medical supply gaps are spreading.

Under a sectarian power-sharing system, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.

Aoun is an ally of Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist group by the US. Bassil was hit with US sanctions last year for alleged corruption and his ties to Hezbollah.

Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, the leader of the Shiite Muslim Amal movement, urged Hariri to form a government quickly in coordination with Aoun to help maintain stability.

Hariri said he would not choose a cabinet to suit the aims of Aoun, adding: “I will only form the kind of government needed to stop collapse and prevent the big crash that is threatening the Lebanese.”

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