Lebanese President, Michel Aoun says country must change from confessional to civil state as protesters call for a technocratic government.
Lebanon’s president has said he is seeking to transform the country from a confessional system, where power is divided among sects, to a civil state, following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid nationwide protests against dire economic conditions.
The Mediterranean country’s current political system assigns the post of prime minister to a Sunni Muslim, while the president is a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament is a Shia Muslim.
An unprecedented wave of protests erupted two weeks ago, calling for a technocratic government who can lead the country out of deepening economic crisis and improve the utility services.
President Michel Aoun’s comments could pave the way for a compromise over a new government needed to enact urgent reforms seen as vital to steering Lebanon out of a deep economic crisis.
In a televised address marking the third anniversary of his term in office, Aoun said he would do his best to transform Lebanon from a sectarian-oriented state structure to a modern civil one by forming a new government of technocrats.
“Ministers should be chosen according to their competencies and expertise, not political loyalties,” Aoun said.
“Lebanon is at a critical juncture, especially in terms of its economy,” he said.
The powerful Shia movement, Hezbollah, has opposed a change in government, with its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, saying it would push Lebanon into “chaos”.
Hezbollah allies dominate the current parliament.
Mass protests erupted across Lebanon last week against plans to tax calls on WhatsApp and other messaging services.
The demonstrations quickly turned into wider grievances, with calls for the resignation of the government and bringing corrupt officials to accountability.
Lebanon suffers from high unemployment, little growth and one of the highest debt ratios in the world, with the debt burden reaching $86.2bn in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Ministry of Finance.
Following Hariri’s resignation, Aoun urged him to remain in his post until the new government is established.
A senior official familiar with Hariri’s thinking said he was ready to return as prime minister of a new Lebanese government on condition it includes technocrats and can quickly implement measures to stave off economic collapse.
Iran-backed Hezbollah reiterated on Thursday that Hariri’s resignation would waste valuable time for pushing through reform measures, which aim to tighten state finances and prod western donors to release billions in pledged aid.
“Hariri’s resignation will contribute to wasting the time available to enact the reforms,” Hezbollah said in a televised statement.
It also accused the US of meddling in domestic affairs to spread chaos.
France, which backs Hariri, also called for the quick formation of a new government to enact the urgent reforms.