BEIRUT – Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri is expected to announce on Monday he will not run in a May election that his movement may boycott, party members said, a potential political earthquake during a national financial collapse.
Hariri has served as prime minister three times since inheriting the political mantle of his father, Rafik al-Hariri, after his assassination in 2005. But while he remains the leading Sunni, his political fortunes have waned in recent years, with his position weakened by the loss of Saudi support.
Hariri has been holding meetings with his Future Movement and senior Lebanese politicians since Thursday, and is due to make an announcement at 4 p.m. (1400 GMT).
Hariri’s announcement comes as Lebanon suffers an economic meltdown which the World Bank has described as one of the sharpest ever globally. The sectarian elite has failed to take steps to address the crisis, even as the bulk of the population has fallen into poverty.
Future Movement legislator Mohamad Hajjar told Reuters: “It is most likely that Prime Minister Hariri will not participate, and the Future Movement will not participate either, but the final word is what Prime Minister Saad Hariri will say.”
“If this is the decision, then the exit will be from parliament and power, and not from political life.”
Lebanon is governed by a sectarian power-sharing system that distributes state positions among 18 officially recognised sects, with the post of prime minister going to a Sunni.
HEZBOLLAH GAINED IN LAST VOTE
Hariri has not yet publicly given any reasons for a possible boycott, though political sources say he has expressed exasperation at what he has described as the obstruction of his past efforts to govern.
Future Movement vice president Mustafa Allouch told Reuters it was “now common knowledge … that he will not run himself” in the parliamentary election. “However, the rest is still under debate until now,” he said.
The heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies won a majority in the 2018 election, which adversaries hope to overturn in the vote scheduled for May. Western states say the vote should happen on time.
Some analysts say a boycott by Lebanon’s largest Sunni movement, which would leave the Sunni political scene in disarray, may lead to calls for a delay.
“I expect to hear voices calling for the postponement of the election, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be postponed,” said Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of Annahar newspaper.
Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said a boycott by Hariri “pulls rug from under the whole process, and would increase speculation that it might not happen.”
Hariri’s last spell as prime minister ended in 2019 when he resigned in response to mass protests against the ruling elite.
He traded blame with other leaders over blocks to reforms that could have averted the economic crisis.
The early years of Hariri’s career were defined by confrontation with Hezbollah and its allies. But in later years his critics accused him of compromising with the group.
His ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, hit a low in 2017 when he was held while visiting the Kingdom and forced to declare his resignation as prime minister – an incident widely reported though denied by Riyadh and Hariri.
He was released after French mediation.