Pro-West leader will be Lebanon’s prime minister
Hariri to work with Hezbollah
BEIRUT - Western-backed billionaire Saad Hariri pledged yesterday to work for a national unity government that includes his Hezbollah rivals shortly after he was appointed by the president to become the country’s next prime minister.
An alliance led by the 39-year-old, son of slain former prime minister Rafik Hariri, fended off a challenge from the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies in parliamentary elections this month.
Hariri’s nomination - and his conciliatory statements - signal more willingness on the majority’s part to placate Hezbollah and its allies, who had serious misgivings about the previous prime minister, Fuad Saniora.
Many hope it will mark a new start for a country plagued by political turmoil, assassinations, and sectarian street clashes in the past four years.
Hariri immediately pledged to work with rivals to form a national unity government to confront economic and security challenges, but he faces tough negotiations with his rivals.
In what appears to be a potential obstacle to a speedy formation of the new government, he indicated that he will not give the Hezbollah-led minority veto power in the new Cabinet.
He said he seeks a government “that can achieve, one that is free of obstacles and paralysis.’’
Hezbollah and its allies negotiated veto power last year after militants overran Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut and forced the government’s hand. The veto power has virtually paralyzed the government but ensured a year of relative calm.
President Michel Suleiman appointed Hariri after two days of consultations with legislators from the 128-member Parliament, 86 of whom named the US-backed politician as their choice for premier.
Hezbollah did not name Hariri or anyone else for prime minister during the meetings with Suleiman. But the head of Hezbollah’s 12-member parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, said Friday that if Hariri was chosen, the group would be “open and cooperative in order to help boost confidence and achieve a national unity government.’’
Under Lebanon’s sectarian divisions of political power, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Catholic, and the parliamentary speaker a Shi’ite Muslim.
Hariri marked his achievement by praying next to the grave of his father.