Lebanese factions back March 14 PM candidate

Coalition selects Tammam Salam, from prominent Sunni family, as prime minister in run-up to June elections.

Lebanese former prime minister Fouad Siniora speaks during a meeting for pro-Western March 14 political coalition as former minister Tammam Salam looks on, in Beirut
Salam, right, received the backing of Lebanon's March 14 coalition on Friday [Reuters]

Tamam Salam, a member of Lebanon’s Western- and Saudi-backed March 14 opposition, emerged as a consensus candidate to take over as prime minister.

The post has been vacant since March 22 when prime minister Najib Mikati announced his surprise resignation, in effect bringing down his March 8 government.

President Michel Suleiman is holding two days of talks to nominate a successor to Najib Mikati, who resigned after two fraught years in office during which he sought to contain sectarian tensions, street violence and economic fallout from the civil war raging in neighbouring Syria.

Salam’s main task, if Suleiman asks him to form a government, will be to steer the fractious country towards a parliamentary election which is due in June but is now widely expected to face delay.

Mikati resigned following a cabinet dispute with Hezbollah and its allies, who brought him to power in early 2011, over extending the term of a top security official and preparations for the parliamentary vote.

A former minister from a prominent political dynasty, Salam won the backing on Thursday of the March 14 political coalition after talks brokered in Saudi Arabia.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose seven parliamentary seats hold the balance of power, also backed him.

A Sunni Muslim, as all Lebanese prime ministers must be under the country’s confessional distribution of power, Salam is seen as close to March 14, but independent enough to be acceptable to Hezbollah’s March 8 bloc.

Parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, whose Shia Amal movement is part of the March 8 coalition, threw his support behind Salam on Friday and called on all political sides to work together.

“We in March 8 will name Tammam Salam to form a new government, a government of national unity,” a political source
in the bloc said on Friday.

Despite the likely overwhelming support, even outgoing Prime Minister Mikati said he would back Salam, the March 8
source warned it “might still be months” before the former culture minister can form a cabinet acceptable to all sides.

Born in 1945, Salam is the son of former prime minister Saeb Salam. His grandfather served under the Ottoman Empire and the French colonial mandate. He himself was a cabinet minister in 2008 and 2009.

Source: News Agencies