x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hariri, Hizbollah set for battle over new government

Opposition's switch of support for Najib Makati as the prime ministerial candidate is seen as an effort to present a compromise figure that Sunnis allied to Mr Hariri might support.

Saad Hariri, left, the caretaker premier of Lebanon, and Fouad Siniora, the head of the Future Bloc Party, speak yesterday in Beirut.
Saad Hariri, left, the caretaker premier of Lebanon, and Fouad Siniora, the head of the Future Bloc Party, speak yesterday in Beirut.

BEIRUT // Saad Hariri, the country's caretaker prime minister, said yesterday he will not participate in any government led by a Hizbollah-backed candidate.

Mr Hariri made the announcement as the president, Michel Suleiman, began two days of discussions with legislators over their choice of premier, following the January 12 toppling of the government by Hizbollah and its allies. Negotiations to form a new government are expected to be lengthy.

The choice of the new premier will shape the tone of the new government for the coming months.

In Lebanon, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim. Mr Hariri's coalition is pushing to have him reinstated as premier.

For its part, the Hizbollah-led opposition is pushing for a candidate who is more in line with its agenda. Last week, Omar Karami, a former prime minister known to be pro-Syrian, was suggested as the opposition candidate, but on Sunday night the opposition announced its candidate would be Najib Makati, a former prime minister seen as more moderate than Mr Karami.

Analysts say the opposition's switch to Mr Makati is an effort to present a compromise figure that Sunnis allied to Mr Hariri might support.

"In this time of crisis and amid political struggles occurring on the ground, I decided that there must be a project to save the country," Mr Mikati told reporters yesterday.

Mr Hariri's bloc rejects the move. "There is no compromise candidate," Mr Hariri's coalition said in a statement yesterday.

The nomination of a prime minister is the latest of many issues Lebanon's political rivals are fighting about. At the heart of the crisis is the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is charged with prosecuting those behind the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad Hariri's father.

Since rumours surfaced months ago that the the tribunal would indict members of Hizbollah for the killing, the Shiite group and its allies have tried to discredit the process, calling it a US-Israeli plot. Mr Hariri remains adamant that the tribunal continue unobstructed.

Toppling the government was part of Hizbollah's strategy to force Lebanon to end its co-operation with the tribunal. The next step is to create a government with a premier sympathetic to this mission.

Since the announcement last Friday bythe independent MP and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt that he and many of his 11-deputy parliamentary bloc would back the opposition's choice of candidate, Hizbollah is well within reach of attaining a prime minister sympathetic to its goals.

Mr Hariri's camp commands 60 votes and the opposition has 57 votes. Mr Jumblatt's siding with Hizbollah may well bring the opposition to the required 65 votes to seal its choice of prime minister. It is still uncertain how many of Mr Jumblatt's 11 deputies will vote for Mr Hariri, and so the premiership is still up for grabs.

foreign@thenational.ae