Lebanon's former finance minister withdraws PM candidacy

Mohammad Safadi says it will be difficult to form a “harmonious” cabinet supported by all parties.

Ben Ariel ,

Mohammed Safadi
Mohammed Safadi

Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammad Safadi on Saturday withdrew his candidacy to be the next prime minister, saying that he saw that it would have been difficult to form a “harmonious” cabinet supported by all parties, Reuters reports.

Safadi, 75, emerged as a candidate on Thursday when political sources and Lebanese media said three major parties had agreed to support him for the position.

He said in a statement that he had decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties and a meeting on Saturday with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

“It is difficult to form a harmonious government supported by all political sides that could take the immediate salvation steps needed to halt the country’s economic and financial deterioration and respond to the aspirations of people in the street,” the statement said, according to Reuters.

Safadi, a prominent businessman with ties to Saudi Arabia, thanked President Michel Aoun and Hariri for supporting his candidacy, and said he hoped Hariri would return as premier to form a new government.

Hariri announced his resignation late last month following ongoing protests against the country’s entire political class but has remained in office as caretaker Prime Minister as efforts continue to form a new government.

The protests in Lebanon were initially started in response to what has become known as the “WhatsApp Tax”, which would have seen a 20-cent daily fee being charged for messaging app users. The tax was later scrapped but the protests have continued and have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilization against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.

Safadi’s decision to withdraw throws Lebanon’s push to form a government needed to enact urgent reforms back to square one.

Hezbollah, which has major political power in Lebanon, and its Shiite ally Amal had agreed to back Safadi following a meeting with Hariri late on Thursday, but no political party had since formally endorsed his candidacy.

The two Shiite groups, along with Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier but have demanded the inclusion of both technocrats and politicians in the new cabinet. Hariri has insisted on a cabinet composed entirely of specialist ministers.

The process for choosing a new premier requires Aoun to formally consult members of parliament on their choice for prime minister. He must designate whoever gets the most votes.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.