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Sleiman names Siniora as PM of unity government

Lebanon's new President Michel Sleiman on Wednesday appointed incumbent premier Fouad Siniora to head a government of national unity.

"Based on his consultations with members of parliament ... the president has asked Fouad Siniora to form a new government," the presidency said in a statement.

Siniora, a close ally of slain former premier Rafik Hariri, has been prime minister since 2005 and headed a caretaker government since Sleiman's election by parliament on Sunday.

“President Michel Sleiman has delegated me to form the first cabinet of this era, after I headed the cabinet of reform and renaissance. I say today, as I said before, that the martyrdom of [former] Premier Rafik Hariri is the reason I stand here, and I promise to fulfill my duties in protecting the state and its institutions and confirming the sovereignty of the law and justice through the International Tribunal,” Siniora said from Baabda after his appointment.

“We all hope to form good relations with Syria, our sister, based on mutual trust … which would allow us to protect Lebanon through joint Arab action and implement international resolutions on returning the Shebaa Farms and Lebanese prisoners to Lebanon … What His Excellency the President launched in his inauguration speech coincides with my principles, and I will work side by side with him in total cooperation,” he added.

The 64-year old Siniora will begin consultations on Thursday with the various parliamentary blocs on forming a 30-member cabinet in which the Hezbollah-led opposition will have veto power over key decisions.

Of the 127 members in parliament, 68 MPs gave him their backing on Wednesday.

Under the deal, the ruling bloc will hold 16 seats in the new cabinet, the opposition 11, and the president will appoint three ministers.

While stances varied between abstaining from naming a candidate or naming PM Siniora, MP Michel Aoun was the only dissident voice.

“We are in the beginning of a new consensus mandate, and I believe that the prime minister must be a consensus candidate. Since this has not happened, we have suggested three names: Leila Solh, Bahij Tabbara and Mohamed Safadi. Thus, the majority is given a margin for choice,” he said from Baabda.

MP Pierre Daccache also nominated Bahij Tabbara, adding that he “had hoped for a candidate upon whom all agreed, or a female Prime Minister, such as Leila Al-Solh.”

Tabbara, in turn, nominated MP Saad Hariri on the basis of Hariri’s leadership of the largest parliament bloc. 

“The naming of Siniora is a continuation of dispute and not consensus. It seems that the majority wants to start a phase of war and not consensus. We insist on participating in the government without agreeing over its prime minister, and we declared ourselves an opposition within the government,” Aoun commented.

Minister Mohammad Safadi, head of the Tripoli Bloc, whose name figured on the list of candidates suggest by Aoun, said he had been insisting on naming MP Saad Hariri for the premiership, but political developments led instead to the naming of PM Fouad Siniora by March 14.

“We, as a Tripoli Bloc, are part of March 14 and are committed to this decision. I thank all those who named me for this position, but I haven’t proposed my candidacy, not even to my allies.”

Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri – also tipped as a possible prime minister – said his bloc had decided to nominate Siniora again, because he is the best man for the job.
“Our stance is not aimed at challenging anyone. There is a possibility of staring a new phase and we will cooperate with President Michel Sleiman at every step,” Hariri said.

“There is a chance to implement President Michel Sleiman’s inauguration speech, and we will cooperate over the establishment of the government following the Doha Agreement. I have taken myself out of the running for the premiership, for I have other affairs to tend to. Reconciliation requires the return of PM Siniora to the premiership,” he added.

Speaker Nabih Berri arrived around 10 a.m. at the presidential palace and met with President Sleiman. MP Anwar Khalil of the Development and Liberation Bloc, headed by Berri, said that the bloc did not name anyone for the premiership but would participate in the coming government.

The Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc voiced the same stance. A leading figure from the bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, reiterated that the Doha Agreement calls for the establishment of a national-unity government.

“The one who wants to preside over it must enjoy the spirit of national unity and not be a follower of foreigners, and this is why we have not named a candidate for the premiership. Lebanese are yearning for a name that will create a positive shock. I did not hear that the majority has named Siniora,” Raad said.

For his part, MP Michel al-Murr told reporters after his meeting with Sleiman that he had named PM Fouad Siniora for the premiership.

Head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, MP Walid Jumblatt, said after meeting with President Sleiman, “We have agreed on naming PM Fouad Siniora for the premiership, and we wish him and President Michel Sleiman success. The Democratic Gathering, which helped reach the Doha Agreement, will present all facilities for the new government.”

Minister Nayla Mouawad and MPs Elias Atallah, Misbah Al-Ahdab, Solange Gemayel, Robert Ghanem and Jawad Boulos nominated Siniora, while MP Butrous Harb named Siniora as a candidate for premiership and calls for the formation of a cabinet that agrees on a work plan. “We want a cooperative team that will achieve shared goals,” he added. MP Setrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces also said that the LF supported Siniora for the premiership.

MP Ghassan Tueni nominated Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on condition that Siniora would head the new cabinet as a new premier, and not as an extension of his former term.

Aoun’s close ally and member of his bloc MP Hagop Pakradounian said that the Tashnaq Party, which he represents, has not named anyone.

“We respect the decision of the majority but do not agree on their candidate, for we hope that the candidate would be a consensual one. We have called for the implementation of the Taif Agreement and for the Armenians to be represented. It is not necessary that the Tashnaq Party be represented with two ministers,” Pakradounian said.

“We had hoped that a consensus candidate would be named for the premiership; unfortunately this has not been done. We haven’t named anyone,” said Syrian Socialist National Party representative MP Assaad Hardan.

MPs Osama Saad and Mustafa Hussein declined to name candidate for premiership. Hussein noted that nominating current Premier Fouad Siniora would drag the crisis into Lebanon’s new era and the majority would then have to bear all responsibility.

Formation of a unity government is a key plank of a deal hammered out by rival factions last week to end an 18-month political crisis that boiled over into deadly fighting and threatened to plunge the nation back into civil war.

Opposition newspapers said the nomination of Siniora, whose US-backed administration was crippled by a long-running opposition protest campaign, could complicate the formation of the new government.

"All indicators were that the formation of the new government was going to be a picnic if Hariri was chosen," said As-Safir.

"But ... the make-up of the government will now be a complicated matter that might require the Qataris to get back in the game especially since each party is setting conditions" over names and portfolios.

The paper said the cabinet post likely to prove a stumbling block was the job of interior minister.

Much of Siniora's term has been dominated by the standoff with the opposition which withdrew its ministers from his government in late 2006 in a bid to force Siniora to resign.

Analysts said the parliamentary majority decided to keep Siniora in his post to allow Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri, to prepare for legislative elections next year.

-AFP/NOW Staff

  • nadia

    Emir of Qatar said that it is a win win situation in lebanon. But I guess when I go throughout the events in Lebanon these last years, I FEEL THAT i am reading and over some "fables de la Fontaine" that ends always with the sentence : "la morale de l'histoire c'est que ...". So, lamorale de l'histoire taht Siniora is till there whether you like it or you don't.

    May 28, 2008