Former prime minister Najib Mikati receives Hezbollah’s backing as caretaker leader, Saad Hariri also seeks his old job.
|Najib Makti, a Sunni Muslim and businessman, was picked by Hezbollah to be the next prime minister [Reuters]|
Hezbollah has moved to the brink of controlling Lebanon’s next government, setting off angry protests and drawing warnings from the US that its support could be in jeopardy.
Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman, emerged as Hezbollah’s favoured candidate to be the next prime minister of Lebanon, in a move denounced by outgoing premier Saad Hariri.
The decision by Hezbollah comes at the beginning of consultations headed by Michel Suleiman, the president, with parliamentary groups on appointing a new prime minister, after the movement brought down the unity government earlier this month.
“It’s Mikati for sure,” Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, who last week became allied with Hezbollah, told AFP news agency.
He also said Hezbollah secured a majority number of votes in the 128-member parliament to impose
Mikati as its candidate to head the next government.
The 55-year-old Mikati, who served briefly as prime minister in 2005 and is close to Syria, said after meeting with Suleiman that if he is appointed, he would act as a consensual candidate representing all parties.
‘Day of rage’
“I extend my hand to everyone,” he told reporters.
“If I am appointed, my actions will speak for themselves.”
Hezbollah’s decision to appoint Mikati has prompted Sunni politicans to call for a “day of rage” throughout Lebanon.
Protests erupted quickly in areas populated by Hezbollah’s Sunni rivals to express their rejection of what they called “Persian tutelage” over Lebanon — a reference to Hezbollah’s Iranian patrons.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut, said that protests have already started in the capital.
“People have come on to the streets, especially in strongholds of Saad Hariri, demonstrating against the selection of Mikati,” she said.
Our correspondent added that several districts of northern Lebanon, as well as the port city of Tripoli, have also seen protests by the March 14 coalition, led by Hariri.
Meanwhile, the US has weighed in on the issue, with PJ Crowley, the State Department spokesperson, saying that a possibly larger political role for Hezbollah in Lebanon’s government could complicate ties and impact its ongoing aid to the country.
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.
Hariri rejects decision
However, Saad Hariri, who is standing for another term, on Monday ruled out joining a government headed by a candidate appointed by Hezbollah, saying there was no such thing as a consensual candidate.
“There is a candidate named Saad Hariri, and then there is another candidate nominated by the opposition,” he said in a statement.
“Those are the only two choices.”
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.