Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi withdraws candidacy for prime minister

Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi, pictured in poster, decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties. (AFP file)
Updated 17 November 2019

Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi withdraws candidacy for prime minister

  • His decision to withdraw throws Lebanon’s push to form a government needed to enact urgent reforms back to square one
  • Mohamad Safadi decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties

BEIRUT: Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammed Safadi withdrew his candidacy to be the next prime minister on Saturday, saying that he saw that it would have been difficult to form a “harmonious” cabinet supported by all parties.
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.
His decision to withdraw throws Lebanon’s push to form a government needed to enact urgent reforms back to square one in the face of unprecedented protests that prompted prime minister Saad Hariri to resign last month.
Safadi said in a statement that he had decided to withdraw following consultations with political parties and a meeting on Saturday with 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.
Protesters who took to the streets on Saturday denounced Safadi’s potential nomination, saying it ran counter to nationwide calls to oust a political elite they see him as part and parcel of.
In the statement, Safadi thanked President Michel Aoun and Hariri for supporting his candidacy, and said he hoped Hariri would return as premier to form a new government.
Shiite group Hezbollah and its Shiite ally Amal had agreed to back Safadi following a meeting with Hariri late on Thursday, according to Lebanese media and political sources, 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, while 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.


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 49 min 26 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.