Lebanon's Hariri to take another stab at forming govt

Lebanon’s president designated Saad al-Hariri prime minister on Wednesday, asking the Saudi- and United States-backed politician to take on the tough job of forming a new government for a second time.

Hariri was first designated prime minister in June, but stepped down last week, blaming rival politicians including the Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah for thwarting his attempts at forging a unity government including all Lebanon’s main parties.

His move triggered consultations this week between President Michel Suleiman and lawmakers that resulted in Hariri, son of assassinated statesman Rafik al-Hariri, being nominated again.

Speaking after meeting Suleiman, Hariri said he would begin wide consultations on the Cabinet next week. “During them, I will be open to all ideas,” he said, adding that he would aim to form an “inclusive and effective” government.

The president was obliged to pick the candidate with the greatest support among Parliament’s 128 members of Parliament.

Hariri, Lebanon’s most influential Sunni politician, secured the support of 73 MPs, most of them members of the political coalition which he led to victory over Hezbollah and its allies in a June parliamentary election.

Fifty-five lawmakers did not nominate anyone for the post, reserved for a Sunni under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system. They included MPs belonging to the Hezbollah and Amal movements, allies that dominate Shi’ite representation.

Amal, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, nominated Hariri for the post in June.
Its refusal to do so again is seen as a sign of a deepening split between Hariri and rivals whose divisions spilled into armed conflict last year.

Rivals demand unity government
The Shi’ite groups and their allies have said the new prime minister must seek to form a unity government including all the main factions and abide by a seat-sharing arrangement splitting Cabinet portfolios between Hariri’s alliance, Hezbollah and its allies and a third bloc picked by the president.

Suleiman, elected as a consensus candidate for the presidency last year, is not seen signing off on any government that does not win the approval of all the factions.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s Cabinet stays on in a caretaker capacity until the new government is formed.

Hariri’s renomination, though widely expected, gave a boost to the Beirut bourse. The Blom stock index closed 1% higher.

Hariri and his rivals have traded accusations of blame since he stepped down last week. There has been no sign of compromise over the differences that derailed Hariri’s first attempt, chief among them his refusal to yield to the demands of Christian politician Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah.

Politicians say the deadlock reflects a relapse in ties between Saudi Arabia and Syria, states with great influence in Lebanon and whose rivalries have fuelled political instability and violence in the country over the past four years.

Rapprochement between Damascus and Riyadh this year has helped Lebanon enjoy its longest spell of political stability since the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, Saad’s father.

But the postponement of a visit Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah was due to make to Damascus has signalled a freeze in the rapprochement. Many Lebanese fear that could be reflected in a protracted political standoff over the new government.—Reuters

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