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French Version

Mikati elected Lebanese premier-designate (Daily Star)

'I hope to be able to personify national unity'

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A new Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati was appointed late Friday to take-up the difficult task of forming a government capable of overseeing the parliamentary elections next month and lead the country out of its current political crisis. Mikati, a Sunni Muslim and a moderate politician, won a close majority, with the backing of the country's opposition, despite tight competition with Staunch Syrian ally Abdel-Rahim Mrad.

Upon his nomination, Mikati said: "I hope to be able to personify national unity. I hope we can cooperate for the best interests of Lebanon."

He saluted the opposition, particularly opposition leader Walid Jumblatt, for breaking the three-month-old boycott with the authorities and nominating him.

He said: "We must take advantage of this unity and of the opposition's brave decision to participate in the consultations."

He also announced that parliamentary consultations to form a Cabinet would start this afternoon. But opposition MP Mosbah Ahdab said the opposition will not be part of the Cabinet.

The country has been without a government since outgoing Premier Omar Karami resigned on February 28 due to massive protests denouncing his government's mishandling of the killing of former Premier Rafik Hariri - a crime which plunged the country into its worst crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

The anti-Syrian opposition opted for Mikati, disregarding the fact that he is a close Syrian ally, in an attempt to weaken Mrad, who is staunchly pro-Syrian and viewed as a "provocative" candidate.

Mikati, a former public works and transport minister has also pledged to hold the elections on time, a major demand of the opposition and the international community. The opposition has also said Mikati promised not to run for elections, and to dismiss pro-Syrian security chiefs, which it accused of having facilitated Hariri's murder.

Only three opposition MPs: Butros Harb, Nayla Mouawad and Mosbah Ahdab refrained from giving a name.

Harb and Mouawad are both close personal friends of Karami, a traditional rival of Mikati, while Ahdab is known to be at odds with Mikati.

The final count was 57 votes for Mikati, versus 38 votes for Mrad. The initial count had given Mrad 10 more votes, but this was later corrected after Speaker Nabih Berri cleared the misunderstanding around his bloc's position and said they hadn't nominated anyone.

The 17 MPs loyal to Berri did not name a candidate. But they said the runner that would receive their backing would have to revoke the current electoral draft law and submit a new one adopting larger constituencies.

President Emile Lahoud and Berri remained in consultations at Baabda Palace for several hours trying to resolve a dispute on whether the voices of the opposition MPs, who did not attend the consultations in person, should be counted. But the results came out positive for Mikati.

The outgoing defense minister received the backing of many in the loyalist camp. Sources said he was also spotted on Thursday visiting the Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon, Rustom Ghazaleh, at his headquarters in Anjar.

Karami, who resigned earlier this week, also named Mrad.
Contrary to custom, many MPs left their choice for premier a secret.

Hizbullah's 12-MP parliamentary bloc and Deputy Speaker Michel Murr's bloc of four, said they chose a name, but refrained from divulging it. "We left the name with President Lahoud," said Hizbullah MP Mohammed Raad.

But it is also understood Hizbullah named Mrad because he pledged to revoke the current electoral draft law and submit a new one, less favorable to the opposition, combining large constituencies with a proportional system.

Pro-Syrian MPs Elias Skaff and Nicholas Fattoush named Economy Minister Adnan Qassar, a neutral figure, who up until Thursday had been viewed as a likely contender. "We name Qassar because he is neutral and open," Skaff said.

Jumblatt, currently in Paris, had advised the opposition to take part in the consultations and name a candidate, in order for the polls to be held on time.

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Beirut 16-04-2005
Nayla Assaf
The Daily Star

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