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Lebanon’s Prime Minister-Designate Resigns, Deepening Country’s Political Crisis

Lebanon’s Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib on Saturday said he was resigning, less than a month after being named to form a government.

Photo: -/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

BEIRUT—Lebanon’s prime minister-designate abandoned his efforts to form a government, thwarting a French-led initiative that sought to end a political impasse and unlock international aid after a massive explosion destroyed nearly half the capital last month.

Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib on Saturday said his resignation came after the collapse of a consensus among Lebanon’s political elite over the government reforms that had emerged during a visit to Lebanon last month from French President Emmanuel Macron. Instead, Lebanon’s politicians split over which party would control which key ministry.

“I…express my sincerest apologies to the Lebanese people,” said Mr. Adib, who was named to form a government less than a month ago.

In Lebanon’s complicated political system, senior government posts are shared between the country’s religious groups: the president is Christian, the speaker of parliament Shiite and the prime minister Sunni.

For almost a decade, Lebanon’s political elite have maintained a consensus as to which party controls which key ministry. But now, international pressure to reel in public spending and combat corruption has put pressure on Lebanon’s ruling class to agree on a government that suits both them and their Western donors.

Mr. Adib resigned after meeting with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, according to the state-run National News Agency. Mr. Aoun is now expected to call for another round of parliamentary consultations, where lawmakers will inform him of their choice for premier.

Days after a massive explosion rocked the city of Beirut, WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum visits the blast site. Photo: Dion Nissenbaum for the Wall Street Journal

The failure to form a government comes at a time when the country is struggling with a host of problems that were compounded by the Aug. 4 explosion at the country’s main port that killed nearly 200 people.

The local currency has lost more than 80% of its value against the dollar since last year and inflation is skyrocketing. Fuel is scarce and some gas stations are rationing their supplies. Poverty and hunger are increasingly widespread. The Lebanese pound lost more than 5% of its value against the dollar after Mr. Adib’s resignation, according to a local currency trader.

“Lebanon is on a bullet train towards the abyss,” said Maha Yahya, Beirut-based director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, a think tank.

Lebanon in Crisis

While Beirut once had a handle on the coronavirus, new cases have now spiked to more than 1,000 a day, stretching the battered medical sector to its limits. A weaker currency also means that basic medical equipment and supplies are more expensive to import.

Gunfights between supporters of rival political factions have also become more frequent as the state’s authority erodes.

The cabinet-formation process in Lebanon is typically a drawn-out, monthslong affair but many had hoped Mr. Macron’s visit would expedite the process. “We are back to square one in terms of the French plan,” said Ms. Yahya.

The U.S. has also sought to shape the cabinet formation and earlier this month sanctioned Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister. Mr. Khalil is a principal aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is one of the figures targeted by Lebanon’s protest movement that took hold in late 2019.

Write to Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com

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