Prominent contractor Samir Khatib has emerged as the favorite candidate to be named prime minister this week, hours after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrew his candidacy, Future Movement officials said Tuesday.
“The Future Movement’s [parliamentary] bloc is set to meet Wednesday to outline its position on naming its candidate for the premiership after Hariri announced he was withdrawing his candidacy,” Mustafa Alloush, a member of the Future Movement’s politburo, told The Daily Star.
“The tendency within the Future bloc is to support Samir Khatib for the premiership. Being a neutral and nonpolitical figure and a successful businessman whose name was not linked to allegations of corruption, Khatib meets all the qualifications demanded by the protest movement,” Alloush, a former Future MP, said.
He was referring to thousands of Lebanese who have taken to the streets since Oct. 17 in an unprecedented popular uprising, demanding an overhaul of the country’s decades-old sectarian ruling system, early parliamentary elections, the formation of a technocratic government to carry out economic reforms and fight corruption, and the return of “looted public funds.”
Alloush said Hariri’s decision to bow out of the premiership was final.
“If Khatib is chosen by the Future bloc as its candidate for the premiership, this means that Prime Minister Hariri and the bloc will nominate him during the binding parliamentary consultations to be held by President Michel Aoun,” Alloush added.
“Contacts among the country’s main political parties, and also with Hariri, are focused on the nomination of Khatib for prime minister.”
Earlier Tuesday, Khatib said he was ready to form a new government if there was consensus among the political parties on his nomination.
“I was approached by different sides since I am close to everyone,” Khatib was quoted as saying by local broadcaster MTV.
“I am ready to form a government and take over the premiership in order to serve the country during these exceptional times.”
Khatib is an executive vice president of engineering company Khatib & Alami, according to its website.
But shortly after, Hariri’s office released a statement saying he distanced himself from any names being circulated for the position and that his choice for premier would be announced during parliamentary consultations at Baabda Palace in a statement to be issued by him.
David Schenker, the top U.S. State Department official for the Middle East, Tuesday criticized Hezbollah and Amal Movement supporters’ recent use of violence against protesters.
“We support the demands of the Lebanese people for the formation of a government to carry out economic reforms and combat corruption. We will see if the Lebanese people accept a government similar to the previous one, which [the people] are protesting against,” Schenker was quoted as saying by television channel Al Hurra.
Schenker added that a new government in Lebanon was a purely domestic issue. “The American government does not take stances against anyone and it is up to the Lebanese people to decide,” he said.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri warned of attempts to undermine Khatib’s chances.
“Now, there is an attempt to thwart Samir Khatib’s [candidacy] after [the candidacies] of Mohammad Safadi, Bahij Tabbara, Nawaf Salam and heads of the banking monitoring committee had been thwarted,” Berri was quoted as saying by visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
The search for a new prime minister came after Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 under pressure of snowballing street protests against the ruling elite, bringing his 30-member Cabinet down with him.
Aoun is yet to set a date for the binding parliamentary consultations with MPs to designate a new prime minister.
Earlier in the day, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star that the consultations would take place Thursday and could take more than one day.
But the same source told The Daily Star Tuesday night that the consultations might be delayed beyond Thursday because contacts with parliamentary blocs showed that a number of MPs were still abroad for the Independence Day holiday. “Some delay might happen [in the consultations] in order to coordinate with blocs concerning the dates of their meetings with the president,” the source said.
In a statement in which he announced his decision to bow out from the premiership, Hariri called on Aoun to quickly hold the consultations to name a new head of government.
Since his resignation, Hariri has insisted on the formation of a government of “specialists” or “technocrats,” a key demand of the protesters, saying otherwise he preferred to bow out.
Hariri’s position has put him at odds with Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, all of which have been pushing for a techno-political government.
Hariri rejected FPM accusations that he was to blame for the delay in the new Cabinet formation.
“When I publicly and privately announce that I see no solution to the severe economic crisis except through a government of specialists, when I recommend those I see fit to form it, and when I support one candidacy after another for those who would form a techno-political government, they face me by saying that I am acting on the principle of ‘me or no one else,’ although all the Lebanese know who applies this slogan in words and deeds,” Hariri said in the statement released by his media office, in a clear allusion to FPM leader and caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
“The worst denial is that those who know all these facts are still telling public opinion that they are waiting for a decision from ‘hesitant Saad Hariri,’ to falsely accuse me of being responsible for the delay in the formation of the new government,” he added.
“In view of these irresponsible practices, and many other examples that I will not detail today, I announce to the Lebanese people that I am committed to the principle of ‘not me but someone else’ to form a government that satisfies the aspirations of the youth and the distinctive presence of the Lebanese women, who led the ranks in all squares, thereby showing the capacity of women in political life,” Hariri said, adding, “a government that deals with the crisis in the binding parliamentary consultations stipulated in the Constitution and which the Lebanese are waiting for and demanding since the resignation of the present government.”
Hariri said that after his decision, he was confident that the president, who is entrusted with the Constitution, “will immediately call for binding parliamentary consultations, to designate a new prime minister to form a new government.”
He said that nearly a month after the resignation of the government, “it has become clear that what is more dangerous than the great national crisis and the severe economic crisis facing our country, and what is preventing the start of a serious resolution of these two interrelated crises, is the state of chronic denial that has been expressed on many occasions over the past weeks.”
Meanwhile, former premiers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam reiterated their support for Hariri to be reappointed as prime minister, after a meeting of the Higher Islamic Council chaired by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian at Dar al-Fatwa.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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