Lebanon’s Hezbollah-backed prime minister designate Najib Mikati on Friday wrapped up consultations on forming a new government set to be boycotted by his Sunni rival Saad Hariri.
Mikati told reporters after two days of talks with parliamentary blocs that he would report back to President Michel Suleiman on Saturday before getting down to the business of choosing his ministers.
An official close to Mikati said the billionaire businessman would probably form a government of technocrats and politicians, given the refusal of Hariri’s Western-backed coalition to take part in the new administration.
“It is now clear that Hariri’s coalition does not want to join the government,” said the official who requested anonymity.
Mikati was appointed earlier this week after the Shiite Hezbollah toppled Hariri’s cabinet because of a dispute over a UN-backed probe into the 2005 murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad’s father.
The militant party, which is backed by Syria and Iran and is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, had brought down Hariri’s unity government over his refusal to cut all ties with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The tribunal is expected to implicate Hezbollah members in Rafiq Hariri’s assassination, a scenario the party has warned against.
Hariri’s coalition on Thursday sought a commitment from Mikati that he would not disavow the Netherlands-based STL.
But Mikati said dialogue was the only way to resolve the dispute over the UN probe, and ruled out putting anything in writing.
“I have not and will not commit in writing to any demands,” he said.
“I have come to the conclusion that what unites the Lebanese is much greater than what divides them.”
He added that he had expected the conditions set by Hariri’s coalition and that he had also received demands from Hezbollah and its allies.
“That’s why my centrist position is important,” he said.
Mikati, who has warm ties with both Syria and Saudi Arabia, was later on Friday to meet diplomats including the French and Saudi ambassadors.
The international community, notably the United States, has expressed concern that Mikati’s appointment could signal a shift in the balance of power towards Syria and Iran.
But since his appointment, Mikati has gone out of his way to position himself as a centrist, and on Thursday he met the US ambassador to Lebanon to underline his commitment to bilateral ties.
Mikati is seen as likely to form his government quickly, given that it would not be a unity cabinet. Lebanon’s constitution does not set a deadline on forming a government.
“The cabinet is expected to be formed by the middle of next week,” the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Akhbar said.
The daily Al-Mustaqbal, owned by Hariri’s family, bluntly stamped a label on Mikati’s cabinet.
“Hezbollah’s government gets down to work,” read its front-page headline. AFP