After nine months of political wrangling, Saad Hariri gave up on trying to form a government, opening a new political void.
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon said on Thursday that he had given up on trying to form a new government, opening a new political void as the country sinks further into an acute political and economic crisis.
Mr. Hariri had been tapped to form a new cabinet last October, after Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of a huge explosion in the port of Beirut on Aug. 4. But after nine months of political wrangling over who would head which ministries, Mr. Hariri told reporters that he had failed to come to an agreement with President Michel Aoun and was stepping down.
“May God help the country,” Mr. Hariri said.
Lebanon is suffering through a financial contraction that the World Bank has said could be one of the world’s worst since the mid-1800s, and Mr. Hariri’s exit makes it even less likely that the country will receive aid soon. Western powers and the International Monetary Fund have predicated any assistance on the formation of a new government and the enactment of reforms aimed at reducing corruption and getting state spending under control.
Mr. Hariri had sent a proposed cabinet lineup to the president on Wednesday and met with him on Thursday, only to announce after a 20-minute meeting that they had failed to agree and that he was stepping down.
Mr. Aoun’s office said in a statement that Mr. Hariri had refused to discuss any suggested changes to his cabinet proposal and that the president had turned down Mr. Hariri’s suggestion that Mr. Aoun take another day to think about it.
“What is the use of one extra day if the door of discussion is closed?” Mr. Aoun said, according to the statement.
Mr. Aoun said he would convene Parliament soon to designate a new prime minister.
But it was unclear how long that would take and who the new candidate might be.
Mr. Diab continues to serve as caretaker prime minister, a role that limits the scope of actions he and his ministers can take to try to stop the country’s descent.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of France called the failure to form a new government in Lebanon “yet another terrible incident.”
“There is a total inability of the Lebanese leaders to find a solution to the crisis that they have created,” he said.
Sarkis Naoum, a Lebanese newspaper columnist, said it appeared that Mr. Aoun had turned against the idea of Mr. Hariri’s premiership and used the new cabinet proposal as an opportunity to push him out, regardless of what it would mean for the country.
“This will weigh down the Lebanese people who are currently in a very difficult situation, which could become a lot more difficult,” he said.
In Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and Mr. Naoum said that it could be hard to find someone to accept the post after Mr. Hariri had failed to form a government.
“We may remain without a government for a long time,” he said.
Lebanon has been assailed by interconnected crises since fall 2019, when mass protests filled the streets as people called for the ouster of the country’s political elite, whom the demonstrators accused of enriching themselves and failing to develop the country.
Since then, the economy has crashed and unemployment has soared. And the situation has gotten worse because of the coronavirus pandemic and the Beirut port explosion, which killed about 200 people and caused billions of dollars in damage to residential parts of the city.
Further fueling the collapse is a financial crisis that has left Lebanon’s banks largely insolvent and sent the currency crashing.
After Mr. Hariri’s statement on Thursday, the Lebanese pound reached a new low of more than 20,000 pounds to the dollar, having lost more than 90 percent of its value since September 2019 and making the salaries of soldiers, police officers and civil servants almost worthless.
Foreign powers have struggled with how to deal with Lebanon’s crisis and have sought to find ways to help the Lebanese bypass a government widely seen as corrupt and ineffective.
This week, the European Union said it wanted by the end of the month to prepare the legal framework for a package of sanctions intended to pressure the country’s politicians to form a government and enact reforms.
Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar contributed reporting.