File picture: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Al Hariri said Wednesday that President Michel Aoun has had the lineup of the new government for “several weeks”, saying he is ready to meet with him to discuss it.

Hariri was responding to a televised address by Aoun, hours earlier, during which he called on him to form a new cabinet immediately or else make way for someone who can.

Hariri said, in a statement, he had held 16 meetings with the president over the formation of the government.

“The lineup has been with the president for several weeks,” he added.

The new cabinet is made up of experts and non-partisan figures, who can carry out the necessary reform, he stated.

Hariri said, for weeks, he has been waiting Aoun to discuss the lineup and approve it. “These weeks have compounded the suffering of the Lebanese people. This suffering started long before I was designated by lawmakers to form the government.”

“I was surprised, as were all Lebanese, with the president’s call to me through the media to immediately form a new government,” continued Hariri.

“As I have visited the president 16 times since my appointment, for the same purpose to agree on a government of non-partisan experts, then I will be honored to visit him immediately for the 17th time if his schedule allows it,” he added.

“If the president finds himself incapable of signing a decree to form the cabinet of non-partisan experts, then he must be frank with the Lebanese over the real reasons that are pushing him to obstruct the will of the parliament that chose the PM-designate,” he urged.

Hariri said the president should relieve the people’s suffering by holding early presidential elections.

“This is the only constitutional way to eliminate the fallout from his election by MPs five years ago, just as they chose me to form a government five months ago,” he stated.

Aoun and Hariri have been at loggerheads over government formation for almost five months, leaving the country rudderless as it sinks deeper into financial collapse.

Lebanon is in the throes of a deep economic crisis that is posing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Erupting in 2019, the financial crisis has wiped out jobs, locked people out of their bank deposits, slashed almost 90% of the value of the Lebanese currency and raised the risk of widespread hunger.

The pace of unravelling has escalated in the past two weeks with the Lebanese pound losing a third of its value, shops closing down and protesters blocking roadways.

Meanwhile, a French diplomat said on Wednesday that France and its international partners will seek to increase pressure on Lebanon’s politicians in the coming months, although he did not envisage sanctions against individuals in the immediate term.

Paris has spearheaded international efforts to rescue the former French protectorate from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, but has failed so far to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform roadmap and form a new government to unlock international aid.

Protests have grown since the Lebanese currency hit new lows, deepening popular anger over Lebanon’s financial collapse.