Political vacuum looms as Lebanese PM quits

The Lebanese government headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, above, resigned on Tuesday on the 13th day of unprecedented protests sweeping across the country demanding economic, political and social reforms.

Hariri announced his  resignation in an unusual address to the nation before meeting President Michel Aoun to formalise the process.

It is not clear whether Aoun has accepted Hariri’s resignation, the third in his career.

Earlier in his speech, Hariri appealed to political parties to protect Lebanon and revive its economy.

Leaders keep changing. What is important is the country’s dignity and safety. No one is bigger than their country, he said.

In the streets, protesters celebrated the news of the prime minister’s resignation by dancing, waving Lebanese flags and chanting “No one is bigger than the Lebanese people.”

The president is expected to allow the present government to continue in a caretaker role, consult political parties to name a Sunni as the new prime minister, re-nominate Hariri or announce fresh elections. The government formation may take months.

People are concerned as a political vacuum may lead to chaos and violence. On Tuesday, supporters of Hezbollah and the AMAL Movement attacked protesters in Beirut.

Lebanese people view political leaders as incompetent and corrupt and blame them for the mess the country is in. They want drastic political changes that can help to lead the nation out of the present crisis.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea suggested a new leadership consisting of technocrats who have made a mark in their respective fields.

Echoing Geagea’s views, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat said important ministerial berths should be allotted to experts.

Jumblat said he is willing to vote again for Hariri if he is re-nominated for the post of prime minister. However, he wants Aoun’s son-in-law and foreign minister Gebran Bassil to be removed.

A “racist” tweet posted by Bassil in June had upset overseas workers. Most of them and some local leaders found the tweet controversial and discriminatory and wanted the minister to be sacked.

In the meantime, France fears Hariri’s resignation has made the crisis facing Lebanon even more serious.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in Parliament on Tuesday that future Lebanese leaders must guarantee the stability of the institutions and the unity of the country and listen to people’s demands such as more jobs, raise in salary and pensions and good governance.

Hariri accepted some of the demands by protesters but they were too little, too late.

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