Hariri appointed PM, wins crucial support

Hariri appointed PM, wins crucial support
Lebanese President Michel Aoun with newly-appointed Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, on Thursday. (AP)
Updated 04 November 2016

Hariri appointed PM, wins crucial support

Hariri appointed PM, wins crucial support

JEDDAH: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was tasked on Thursday with forming Lebanon’s next government.
Supporters of his Future Movement (Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal) broke into spontaneous rallies in Beirut after his appointment as prime minister, waving huge sky-blue flags with his portrait.
Hariri’s appointment is part of a political deal that resulted in the election of Christian leader Michel Aoun, a close ally of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, as head of state on Monday. The election ended 29 months of a presidential vacuum.
The latest developments have raised hopes that Lebanon can now begin dealing with a range of challenges, including a stagnant economy, a moribund political class and the influx of more than a million Syrian refugees.
Hariri said he hoped “to form a government of national accord quickly, that will work on an electoral law that secures just representation and oversees the completion of the parliamentary elections on schedule.”
Lebanon is due to hold parliamentary elections in May 2017 which will be the first legislative vote in eight years.
Speaking to journalists at the Baabda presidential palace, Hariri said: “We owe it to the Lebanese people to begin working as soon as possible to protect our country from the flames burning around it and to reinforce its immunity in the face of terrorism.”
Hariri assumed the political mantle of his father, Rafik Hariri, after his assassination in 2005. A UN-backed tribunal has charged five members of Hezbollah with the killing.
After his father’s assassination, he led a coalition of Lebanese parties through years of political conflict with Hezbollah and its allies, including Aoun. He was prime minister of a unity government from 2009 to 2011.
In an indication of the difficult task ahead, Hezbollah MPs declined to endorse Hariri for the prime minister’s post.
“Obviously, Hariri will face difficulties in his bid to form the government,” Lebanese political analyst Assaad Bechara told Arab News on Thursday. “Basically, he needs the approval of Hezbollah and of (Parliament Speaker) Nabih Berri, head of the Shiite Amal movement,” said Bechara. “In addition, he has to take into consideration the Christian representation in the government.”
Berri endorsed Hariri for prime minister on Thursday. A close Hezbollah ally, Berri had come out in opposition to the deal struck by Hariri and Aoun and voiced objections that threatened to obstruct the formation of the new government.
He indicated he would cooperate in efforts to set up the new administration.
Though Hariri has succeeded in winning Berri’s support, Bechara said: “Unfortunately, what we have seen in Lebanon is that Hezbollah decides who the president is and it is Hezbollah which allows the formation of a government. Hezbollah has therefore taken the government hostage.”
For David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hariri’s nomination was part of the understanding that allowed Aoun to become president.
“Whether Hariri — and in fact Lebanon — succeeds, is going to be in large part dependent on Hezbollah and Aoun,” he told Arab News on Thursday. “(Because) last time Hariri was prime minister, his government was toppled and he was removed from his post by Hezbollah.”
According to Schenker, if Aoun pursues an overtly sectarian, pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian agenda in Lebanon — “stacking Lebanon’s bureaucracy with unqualified and corrupt partisan hacks” — it will be difficult for Hariri to accomplish much for Lebanon.
He said Hariri’s task in forming a government would prove enormously complex “because of the competing demands of Aoun (who will want one-third of the Cabinet seats), Hezbollah, and his own parliamentary bloc of 10 parties.”
Other than forming a government, there are other issues that Hariri has to deal with. “For instance, he may face challenges from within the Sunni community, including by some who believe the new prime minister is too accommodating of Hezbollah.”
Schenker suggests that Hariri’s position in Lebanese politics will be strengthened “if Saudi Arabia once again starts to play a role in Beirut.”
Saudi Arabia welcomed the election of the new president two days ago.
In his congratulatory message to Aoun on Tuesday, King Salman reiterated that Saudi Arabia stood for the unity of Lebanon. The king wished stability, progress and prosperity for the Lebanese people.