(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

Archive for June 9th, 2009

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Shuffle

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The elections are over, March 14 won their “surprise” victory, that left them with 71 seats pretty much exactly the same as they had after 2005. Nasrallah gave a realitively low key speech last night accepting the results and calling for solidarity. So whats next? Forming a cabinet and choosing a prime minister, and both issues go hand in hand.

Oh before I get into that: Here is my story from Batroun and Koura on Sunday. It had a different lede on it, but then at press time the results for Batroun and Koura came in so they slapped that on there. So after the first two graphs the rest is me.

Back to PMs: As a brief primer, there are 30 cabinet posts which are selected by consensus from the parliament, except for a few posts like the Ministry of Interior which most likely will go back to Ziad Baroud, (who most are happy with after his handling of the elections) all posts will be up for grabs.

The big question in the cabinet is whither a 1/3 of the picks will be given to members of the opposition known as a blocking third, enough for a veto. Before that can happen, the parliament has to select a prime minister. The parliament makes a recommendations to the president who then selects the prime minister who forms the cabinet.

These two issues are tied together because depending on who the prime minister it will most likely determine if a veto third is given to the opposition.

So who are the candidates for prime minister:

Najib Mikati

Najib Mikati

Najib Mikati: Before the March 14 win, it looked as if Najib Mikati was the unanimous choice for both parties. At the time people were assuming there would be a small March 8 victory, a hung parliament and the need for a moderate like Mikati to step in. Mikati began to serve in parliament in 1998 and took his first cabinet position at the Ministry of Public Works and

Transportation. He is a very wealthy businessman a member of the AUB board of trustees and most importantly he was appointed as prime minister in 2005 by then president Emile Lahood. He took the position after beleaguered PM Omar Karami and his government resigned in 2005 due to the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Mikati was a consensus PM that satisfied the pro-Syrians at the time, as he is considered to be moderately pro-Syrian and had a good relationship with Bashar Al-Asad. He was PM for just 3 months, in which he composed a government and held elections in which PM Foud Siniora was elected the next PM. Now that March 14 has squeaked off a victory it looks less likely that

the pro-Syrian Mikati will be selected.

Saad Hariri: Saad Hariri is the leader of the Future Movement and the face of the March 14 coalition. He is the son of Rafik Hariri, a former businessman, and was thrown into politics after

Saad Hariri

Saad Hariri

his fathers assassination. He is very much a novice on the political scene but has huge support. He won the Beirut 3 district with a convincing 78382 votes. The whole Hariri family are owners of Solidaire, the company responsible for redeveloping post-Civil War Beirut. Solidaire has drawn criticism for its mishandling of the development and losing touch with the essence of Beirut. Rafik derived much of his wealth from Saudi business contracts, and eventually became envoy for Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd. The connection to the Saudi’s is said to still be strong. Hariri has become a front runner for the premiership, but would have a difficult decision ahead of him if he accepted it. On one hand part of his base does not want to grant the opposition a veto block in the cabinet. They see it as counter productive and continuing the weak government and stagnation that has been the trend. On the other hand if Hariri were to grant the opposition the veto block he could avoid the civil strife that would surely ensue and be seen as a peacemaker. He does have a third option, as do most of the candidates for PM, and that is to grant President Michel Sleiman the choice of a handful of independent cabinet members.Thereby giving the opposition and the president a combined veto. That option would greatly increase the executive powers and might not please all parties, like general Aoun, but it could be the best alternative for reducing tensions.

Fouad Siniora: Lastly there is the current PM. Siniora is a March 14 member and the

Fouad Siniora

Fouad Siniora

PM of choice following Rafik Hariri’s death. He was PM during the 2006 war, the 2007 boycott, the 2008 opposition uprising and Doha agreement. Siniora was a businessman who was very close to Rafik Hariri. He ran and won in parliament this year in Sidon, running with Bahia Hariri (Rafik’s sister) for the two Sunni seats. He is considered by some the favorite choice of some in the West (like the U.S.) for the seat.

I’m sure thats not all the names being tossed around for the seat now. Send an email or leave a comment if you know of more, and let me know if I got anything wrong or didn’t make it clear enough.