Lebanon’s President to Hold Talks on New Premier This Week

Dana Khraiche

(Bloomberg) -- Parliamentary consultations to name a new Lebanese prime minister are expected to begin Thursday, with caretaker premier Saad Hariri saying he won’t take on the job permanently amid nationwide unrest.

President Michel Aoun will canvass parliamentary blocs to see which candidates they prefer, and based on those recommendations he’ll assign someone to form a new government. Consultations usually take at least two days. The Thursday start date was reported on the news website of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

Earlier in the day, Hariri said he wouldn’t head the new cabinet, declaring on Twitter that “I am committed to the principle of ‘not me but someone else.’” Hariri, who favors a government of experts to address Lebanon’s financial and economic crises, said the new government should meet the aspirations of the young men and woman who have been protesting for over a month.

Hariri, who in his statement touted the role played by women in the protests, has according to media reports proposed caretaker Interior Minister Raya El Hassan as his preferred candidate for premier.

Other names in circulation include former ambassador to the United Nations Nawaf Salam, chairman of the Banking Control Commission Usama Mikdashi and his predecessor Walid Alamuddin, as well as businessman Samir Al Khatib, who told a local television channel that he would accept the nomination if it was offered.

The deepening crisis that’s gripped Lebanon has paralyzed the economy, put pressure on its decades-old currency peg and raised the threat of default. Hariri stepped down late last month, and demonstrators are demanding a government of technocrats to avoid an impending financial meltdown.

Political parties have been unable to reach a deal on the shape of the new government because the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies, including Aoun, want to be represented alongside independent experts. Last week, former Finance Minister Mohammed Safadi was put forth as a consensus candidate, but he withdrew after protesters opposed the choice. Safadi has denied their allegations that he used his political status to benefit his business.

Lebanon’s Standoff Worsens With Parliament Paralyzed by Protests

The central bank began rationing dollars even before the unrest ignited, pushing up demand for the foreign currency and creating a black market rate that’s currently 30% higher than the fixed exchange rate of 1,507.50 Lebanese pounds to the dollar. The move has stymied trade and imports in a country that’s almost entirely reliant on foreign goods.

The Economic Committees, a group that represents the private sector, said its member businesses will go on a three-day nationwide strike to protest the deteriorating conditions. The Traders Association union will join the walkout, according to its head, Maroun Chammas.

“The point we have reached today is this: no buying, no selling no paying and no salaries. Stockpiles are not being renewed and this means rationing and a supply crisis,” Chammas said in a televised conference.

A shortage of dollars has forced many importers to buy currency on the black market at higher rates. The central bank said it would supply dollars to importers of fuel, wheat and pharmaceuticals.

(Updates with possible names for premiership)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dana Khraiche in Beirut at dkhraiche@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at shajimathew@bloomberg.net, Amy Teibel, Michael Gunn

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