Saad Hariri
Saad Hariri Reuters

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Wednesday he would not seek to stay on as prime minister, ahead of much-delayed consultations to give the protest-wracked country a new government, AFP reports.

Hariri resigned on October 29 following unprecedented nationwide demonstrations against Lebanon's reviled political elite.

While the caretaker premier had looked like he might attempt to keep his seat, he said on Wednesday his name was drawing too much opposition for him to be a candidate when official consultations to pick a new line-up begin on Thursday.

"I have strived to meet their demand for a government of experts, which I saw as the only option to address the serious social and economic crisis our country faces," Hariri said, according to AFP.

"I announce I will not be a candidate to form the next government," he said in a statement.

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.

Lebanon's economy has been sliding towards default in recent weeks but the main political parties have so far failed to respond to calls from the street and international partners by forming a credible cabinet capable of undertaking key reforms.

The consultations for a new cabinet have been postponed twice already and it remains to be seen whether they will indeed take place on Thursday and whether Hariri's chances of a third mandate as prime minister are really over.

Several names were floated since Hariri resigned but his own eventually came back to the fore and his withdrawal leaves a major question mark hanging over Thursday's scheduled talks.

The past few days were marked by a spike in tensions on the ground, with counter-demonstrators supporting Shiite parties Amal and Hezbollah clashing with security forces.

Tensions have been further heightened by the looming bankruptcy of the debt-ridden Lebanese state, with banks unable to respond to a stinging liquidity crunch.

The Lebanese pound, officially pegged to the US dollar, has lost around 30 percent of its value on the black market.

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