Lebanon's prime minister-designate abandoned efforts on Thursday to form a new government, throwing the country into more political uncertainty after the Hezbollah-led parliament minority rejected his proposed Cabinet.
Saad Hariri's move, two days after his proposed 30-member Cabinet list was turned down, prolongs the paralysis in the country, with President Michel Suleiman now forced to restart consultations with lawmakers to name a new premier.
It also highlights the continuing deadlock between Lebanon's US-backed camp headed by Hariri and the pro-Syrian bloc led by the militant group Hezbollah. Hariri's coalition, a predominantly Sunni alliance with Christian and Druse supporters, won a slim majority in June parliamentary elections, which were viewed by many observers as a struggle between US and Iranian-backed forces for influence in the Middle East.
The Western-backed bloc fell short of the needed number of lawmakers in parliament to rule on its own. And while the Hezbollah camp also is not in a position to run the country, the two factions have not found a way to work together.
"I apologized to his excellency the president about (not being able to) form the government, hoping that this decision will be in Lebanon's interest," Hariri said after a meeting with Suleiman. Suleiman issued a statement saying he considered Hariri's step-down "part of the democratic process" and would call for further consultations.
Hariri tried since June to form a government but disputes over the distribution of top ministries scuttled his efforts. After making no headway with rival factions, he named his own picks for the Cabinet posts.
Hezbollah and its allies denounced this move, saying they must be allowed to name their own members in the unity Cabinet, which is to be made up of rival Lebanese factions.
Hariri accused the Hezbollah-led bloc of seeking to undermine the entire election, saying it had proposed "impossible conditions" and "had no wish to advance one step forward."
Samir Geagea, a Christian leader and an ally of Hariri, accused the Hezbollah-led minority of obstructing the government formation upon orders from Iran and Syria.
Hezbollah officials were silent Thursday but in the past have accused Hariri of taking orders from Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The Lebanese constitution requires that Suleiman consult with lawmakers again before choosing another prime minister. He is expected to meet with representatives of the parliament blocs as early as next week to sound out their proposals in the coming days. There has been speculation the U.S.-backed outgoing premier, Fuad Saniora, would be named, although opponents who clashed with him over the past four years said such a choice would be considered "provocative."
Fadia Kiwan, a political science professor at Beirut's St. Joseph University, said Hariri could be named once again by the majority but that the president is more likely to tap a neutral person to form a technocratic government.
The only thing the factions agreed on during the negotiations over a Cabinet makeup was a formula that gave Hariri's parliamentary majority 15 seats, the Hezbollah-led minority 10 seats and the president five seats to fill.
One of the most contentious points was the demand by Hezbollah and its allies that Jibran Bassil, of the Hezbollah-ally Christian Free Patriotic Movement, stay on as telecommunications minister, a sensitive post for security reasons.
Hariri rejected this, reportedly choosing a politician closer to his own bloc for the post, Ghazi Aridi of the Druse politician Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party.