BEIRUT: Lebanon has named academic and former education minister Hassan Diab as its next prime minister in a bid to end two months of political stalemate that has gripped the country.
Diab, vice president of the American University of Beirut, was nominated to head the next government by President Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc, along with its allies Hezbollah, Amal Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
The prime minister designate’s first task will be to build a government capable of tackling Lebanon’s worst economic turmoil for decades, while satisfying demands for change from the largest protest movement in almost two decades.
Diab secured the votes of 69 out of 128 members of Parliament on Thursday after caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrew his candidacy and told Aoun his Future Movement parliamentary bloc would not participate in the next government.
However, the incoming premier failed to win a majority of Sunni, Druze or even Christian votes in the binding parliamentary consultations, raising questions about his ability to establish a stable leadership as the country struggles with rising unemployment and a collapsing economy.
The significant absence of Sunni and Druze votes also revealed changes in Lebanon’s political alliances amid positioning for power in the future government.
Politicians close to Hezbollah and Amal tried to downplay the significance of the voting “gap” as they sought to head off objections to Diab’s nomination.
Head of the Tawhid Party, Wiam Wahhab, said: “The Sunni opposition that named Diab won 40 percent of the Sunni votes in the parliamentary elections.”
MP Qassem Hashem said: “The person who wins the majority of votes decides to accept or reject. Anything else is misplaced heresy.”
However, Strong Republic MP Ziad Hawat described the consultations on Thursday as “a badly directed play in which all rules and regulations were violated.”
He added: “This is a standard appointment exposed by the power of arms.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said: “Those who are promoting Diab to head the government are trying to do so by using a minesweeper.”
Diab, 60, was minister of education and higher education in Najib Mikati’s government in 2011.
He appeared as a leadership candidate late on Wednesday after the Strong Lebanon bloc, Hezbollah and Amal agreed to nominate him following Hariri’s withdrawal.
Hariri’s parliamentary bloc, which includes 18 MPs, did not name anyone to head the government.
The Democratic Gathering bloc, which includes nine MPs representing Druze and Progressive Socialist Party loyalists, named former envoy Judge Nawaf Salam as its candidate, a decision backed by the Kataeb bloc, which includes three MPs.
Sami Gemayel, head of the bloc, said: “People want a neutral government and a prime minister who offers a new beginning.”
Diab, who has a Ph.D. in computer engineering, won the votes of the Strong Lebanon bloc, which includes 19 MPs and is headed by MP Gibran Bassil.
He also won the votes of the Hezbollah bloc (13 MPs) and Amal (17 MPs).