Middle East
Talks to decide Lebanon PM start
Former prime minister Najib Mikati receives Hezbollah's backing as caretaker leader, Saad Hariri also seeks his old job.
Last Modified: 24 Jan 2011 11:30 GMT

Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's president, has begun two days of consultations with parliamentary groups on appointing a new prime minister, after Hezbollah brought down the unity government earlier this month.

Najib Mikati, who served briefly as prime minister in 2005, was tapped on Monday as the favourite candidate to be appointed the next prime minister of Lebanon, after securing the backing of the powerful Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies.

"His name is prevailing among all other options," MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement allied with Hezbollah, told AFP news agency.

The Lebanese press was unanimous on Monday in presenting Mikati as the candidate set to be nominated by Hezbollah, which on January 12 forced the collapse of Saudi and Western-backed Saad Hariri's unity government.

Mikati, a telecoms tycoon, said in a statement on Sunday that he was coming forward as a consensual candidate and would co-operate with all parties with a view to bringing the country out of its deep political crisis.

"I don't view my candidacy as a challenge to anyone but rather as an opportunity to restore contacts among [rival] leaders," his statement said.

Asked whether he was the opposition's candidate, Mikati said: “I consider myself to be a candidate of accord and moderation.”

Rula Amin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, said Mikati has a very good chance of becoming the next prime minister.

Amin said when Mikati was prime minister few years ago, he was moderate and took a very middle line. “He managed to put together the parliamentary elections in Lebanon that paved the way for a unity government,” Amin said.

Compromise candidate

The Al Jazeera's correspondent added: "For many, [Mikati] is seen as someone who can bring consensus. For the opposition to be able to get this man to run for prime minister is an achievement because it defuses the tension that has overwhelmed the country.”

Amin said Mikati is very respected among Lebanese Sunnis, Christians and Shias, and he will be able to diffuse the tension.

On Sunday, Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, pledged to include its political rivals in Lebanon's next government if its candidate for prime minister wins a parliamentary majority in an upcoming vote.

Nasrallah said on Sunday that the Shia group and its allies want to form a national unity government, rather than seeking to govern alone.

"If our candidate is successful, we will ask him to form a government of national partnership in which all parties will participate. We respect everyone's right to representation," Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah and its allies ruled out nominating Hariri, Lebanon's caretaker prime minister, for reappointment. However, Hariri has said he will nonetheless run for a second term.

Tight vote

The vote is expected to be tight, and experts estimated the country's 128 parliamentarians were equally divided between Hariri and Hezbollah's candidate.

The support of at least 65 lawmakers is required to form a government. Hezbollah and its allies already claim 57 seats. Saad Hariri has 60.

Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon's Druze leader, who announced on Friday that he was siding with Hezbollah in the political feud, now stands to play kingmaker with his 11-member strong bloc.

Hariri's government collapsed when Hezbollah and its allies pulled out 11 ministers from the cabinet in a dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is probing the 2005 murder of Saad's father and the country’s former prime minister, Rafiq Hariri.

Nasrallah, who has accused the Netherlands-based tribunal of being under US-Israeli control, has said he expects it will implicate Hezbollah members and warned of grave repercussions.

Many fear Hezbollah will react violently if its members are indicted, as is widely expected.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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