By Hussein Dakroub
Monday, January 24, 2011
BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati emerged Sunday night as the choice of the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition in the fierce battle for the prime minister’s post against caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“It’s Mikati, unless something happens at the last minute,” a senior March 8 source told The Daily Star.
Mikati later announced his candidacy for the post “as a candidate of accord and moderation.”
“I don’t view my candidacy as a challenge to anyone, rather it is a chance to restore contacts among these leaders out of my previous experience in the premiership and my middle ground that unites and does not divide,” the 55-year-old lawmaker said in a statement.
But negative reaction from the March 14 coalition to Mikati’s nomination was quick.
A senior March 14 source said Mikati was the candidate of Hezbollah, adding that there was no Saudi cover for his nomination. “Mikati is not a consensual candidate. He is a candidate of Hezbollah. The problem is that Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is appointing the Sunni prime minister,” the source told The Daily Star.
“We will not participate [in any Mikati government] because we consider that Saad Hariri is the only one who can form a national unity Cabinet in which all parties participate,” MP Ahmad Fatfat of Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc told al-Jadid TV.
As The Daily Star went to press, mandatory parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister were due to take place on time, from noon Monday. President Michel Sleiman will meet with MPs for two days to poll them on their choices for a prime minister after Hariri’s national unity Cabinet was toppled on Jan. 12 when ministers of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies resigned in a long-simmering dispute over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The STL is probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The March 8 said that the March 8 coalition has secured a majority of 65 votes of the 128-member legislature to ensure that its candidate would be named as prime minister.
March 8 received a big boost Friday from Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader MP Walid Jumblatt who voiced support for Syria and Hezbollah, throwing his weight behind the March 8 coalition in the battle for the prime minister’s post. With his 11 MPs, Jumblatt holds the decisive vote in Parliament. At least seven MPs of Jumblatt’s bloc are expected to vote for the March 8 camp’s candidate.
The source said that if Mikati was selected for the prime minister’s post, he would try to form a government comprising all the parties.
“We have agreed with Mikati there is no objection to the formation of a partnership government, but without granting veto power [to the March 14 coalition],” the source said. “If they [March 14] refuse to join such a government, we will not beat ourselves up.”
Mikati, a telecommunications businessman known for his moderate political position on the Lebanese crisis, served as prime minister of a transitional Cabinet in 2005 following Hariri’s assassination and the resignation of former Prime Minister Omar Karami to set the stage for parliamentary polls. He is currently a member of Parliament for the northern city of Tripoli. He was elected MP in 2000, and again in 2009. He served as public works and transport minister from 1998 to 2004.
Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim religious leaders served a clear warning to Hezbollah and its March 8 allies against attempts to oust Hariri from the premiership and impose a government with the use of pressure and intimidation.
March 8 coalition has vowed to prevent Hariri’s return to the premiership after toppling his national unity Cabinet. Defying pressure by Hezbollah and its allies to try to oust him, Hariri said Thursday he would seek a new term as prime minister.
In a statement issued after an extraordinary meeting of the Council of Muftis in Lebanon chaired by Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, they said that Hariri’s toppled Cabinet was formed in November 2009 after he gained a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections and emerged as the leader of the parliamentary majority.
The Council of Muftis includes Sunni muftis across the country who report to the grand mufti. “This reality is protected by the Lebanese Constitution and safeguarded by the prevailing national traditions inside the Lebanese parliamentary system since independence,” the statement said.
The religious leaders said they support Hariri because he represents the majority of Sunnis. “The Council of Muftis in Lebanon affirms its adherence to common coexistence, national unity and civil peace. It warns against ignoring the Sunni majority and the parliament majority and bypassing the constitutional foundations,” the statement said. “It also warns against the dangers of a government imposed by the use of force, pressure and coercion.”
Expressing deep concerns over attempts to impose domination and violate the country’s National Covenant and Constitution, the Council of Muftis appealed to Sleiman “to prevent revenge-seekers from carrying out their plan and stop those who seek to cause tension among the Lebanese sects in order to maintain stability and security in Lebanon.”
The consultations to appoint a new prime minister come amid a flurry of regional diplomatic activity aimed at preventing Lebanon’s slide toward sectarian strife following the failure of Saudi-Syrian and Qatari-Turkish efforts to break the Lebanese deadlock over the STL’s indictment, which is widely assumed to implicate some Hezbollah members in Hariri’s assassination.
In a last-ditch attempt to ease the political crisis in Lebanon, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem Bin Jabr al-Thani were still in Damascus for further talks with the Syrian leadership but they failed in their attempt to buy more time to try to find a solution.
Iran’s acting foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, arrived in Damascus for talks with Syrian officials on the Lebanese political crisis, a diplomatic source said. The source told AFP that Salehi was to meet President Bashar Assad Monday.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit warned that Lebanon was in a “dangerous situation.” “The Lebanese problem should be dealt with carefully. We are all seeking to give a chance to the Lebanese to work with an internal consensus … Sunni Muslims have rights in Lebanon that must be preserved,” Abu al-Gheit told The Voice of Lebanon radio station.