Hariri to get tough on opposition

Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority March 14 alliance, will probably be chosen again as prime minister.

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BEIRUT // Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority March 14 alliance, will probably be chosen again as prime minister, after a preliminary count yesterday showed support from 86 fellow parliamentarians. The likely nomination tomorrow would follow the conclusion of parliamentary consultations today under the president, Michel Suleiman.

Last week, Mr Hariri stepped down after the 30-minister list he had drawn up for his cabinet for the proposed "national unity" government was rejected by the Hizbollah-led parliamentary minority March 8 group. It followed 75 days of negotiations between Lebanon's various parliamentary blocs that were scuttled by disputes over the allocation of top ministries. Mr Hariri had said on Sunday that were he to be renominated, he would be less accommodating of opposition objections. "I want to be clear on the issue: whoever wants to name Saad Hariri let them, and whoever does not want to name me, I will deal with them like they dealt with me," he said after an iftar at his residence.

Okab Sakr, a member of parliament from the Lebanon First bloc, which is part of the March 14 alliance, said Mr Hariri was "not going to fall in the opposition's trap" this time around. "Last time we gave them a granted formula for the new government," he said. "Now, no formula will be given for granted. If they want it they should accept the whole package proposed by Hariri and Suleiman." The original negotiations had been based on the Doha agreement in May 2008 that had ended fighting in Lebanon after an 18-month political crisis. The agreement stipulated that 15 seats would be allocated to the majority, 10 to the minority and five to the president as a neutral party. It also allowed the opposition bloc a "veto third" in the cabinet.

Mr Sakr said the next round of negotiations would be "open to all possibilities". One such possibility would be a technocrat government with ministers who are experts in their field and, while they would have political affiliations, would not be high-profile politicians. However, an official of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which is led by Gen Michel Aoun and is part of the March 8 Alliance, said the opposition would not roll over.

"Do not belittle us, we will not budge on our demands to have five portfolios in any new government, including the ministry of communications for Jibran Basil and one sovereign portfolio," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Mr Basil, a member of Gen Aoun's FPM, unsuccessfully contested the June 7 elections. That does not bode well for upcoming negotiations. Mr Sakr has insisted that anyone who lost in the June 7 elections "cannot be granted high-profile seats at the new cabinet".

He accused the opposition of proposing a "barricades government" rather than one of national unity. Among the votes of support Mr Hariri received yesterday were those of Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze and Progressive Socialist Party. However, the party's secretary, Sherif Fayyad, said Mr Jumblatt would only participate in a national unity government. The influential parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, said he would be prudent before making his choice, indicating that his support also depends on the formation of a national unity government.

Last week's rocket attack on Israel, which prompted Israeli artillery fire on southern Lebanon, was also a hot topic of discussion among MPs yesterday. "It's a serious indicator that the March 8 coalition needs to make concessions to help form the new government so Lebanon can face any looming regional challenges," Mr Sakr said. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al Thani, Qatar's prime minster and foreign minister, again tried to broker a deal during a visit to Syria on Sunday, but Mr Sakr said his efforts were thwarted by Syria's "intolerant stance" through its allies inside Lebanon.

"We welcome any mediation to help us form a government but we cannot accept having Doha as the key to all our political crises and to our government formation," he said. mzeidan@thenational.ae