Lebanese cabinet talks re-started by new PM

Sunday, April 17, 2005

In the swiftly moving Lebanese political arena, hopes for national elections to come off as scheduled were revived as Najib Mikati was voted in Friday as the new Prime Minister, replacing former PM Omar Karimi who resigned Thursday.

The US- and EU-backed Mikati, a wealthy telecommunications businessman with ties to Damascus, was able to garner anti-Syrian opposition support to secure the nomination in a 128-member parliament vote. He immediately began work Saturday on building a new cabinet, and will continue Monday to build a cabinet team that can create a new government inside a two-week deadline. The government's 4-year parliamentary term ends May 31. Besides the formation of a new cabinet, there must be a confidence vote from parliament, and then the re-drafting of election laws for presentation to the assembly for passage in an approval process.

Lebanon has been without a government since the end of February. The previous prime minister, the pro-Syrian Karimi, replaced the assassinated anti-Syrian Rafik Hariri, but was forced to resign under massive opposition protests. Despite his later reappointment by President Lahoud, he again resigned as he remained unable to gain opposition involvement in forming a new cabinet.

The new PM Mikati told a leading newspaper, Al-Nahar, that he intends to form a "restricted government that could hold elections as soon as possible" and sack security service chiefs who he believes would block UN efforts to probe the murder of Hariri.

The sister of Hariri, MP Bahia Hariri, who backed the Migati nomination in her first meeting with President Lahoud since her brother’s killing, said, "We were facing two things: either to enter a constitutional vacuum or offer a compromise, and this is what the opposition chose," according to a report by al-Jazeera.