Lebanon's Sleiman appoints Siniora prime minister

Lebanon's new president, Michel Sleiman, appointed incumbent Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to head a new national unity government in Lebanon, the president's office said.


In his first major task since his election to the Lebanese presidency on Sunday, President Michel Sleiman appointed the incumbent Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to head a new government on Wednesday. By law, the Lebanese president is required to abide by the decision of the parliamentary majority, which Tuesday named Siniora as its candidate for PM.


The US-backed Siniora now faces the difficult task of forming a national unity cabinet in which the Hezbollah-led opposition will get veto-power, according to the Arab League-sponsored Doha agreement signed by Lebanese parties on May 21.


At the head of the Lebanese government since 2005, Siniora’s mandate has been marked by a standoff with Hezbollah which led the 18-month campaign trying to force him to resign. The confrontation between the pro-western majority and the Iranian-backed opposition escalated in recent weeks into sectarian violence in which dozens were killed.  


Difficult negotiations on unity cabinet


“According to the Doha agreement, the majority will get 16 seats in the 30-member cabinet, the opposition 11 seats and three other ministers will be elected by President Sleiman,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Lebanon, Jean-Marie Quemener.


“The balance will be hard to find, and sharing of key portfolios such as defense, interior and security ministries will undoubtedly be difficult.”


“The current tension and distrust between opposition and majority leaders will toughen things up,” majority Lebanese MP Nabil de Freije told FRANCE 24. “However, the assistance of Arab nations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, which pushed for a Lebanese agreement at Doha, will enable us to form a government within two weeks, I hope.”


Under the country's power-sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Christian Maronite and the speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim.


Deeply rooted rifts 


Forming the unity government will be the first of Siniora’s many challenges. Once he has formed a cabinet he will have to divide the country into smaller electoral districts, as planned by the Doha agreement.


“Siniora will have to play along with local clan leaders and the country’s various 18 religious communities. He will have to use his diplomatic skills to complete his mission and avoid attacks and critics,” said FRANCE 24’s Quemener.


“Fouad Siniora is very aware of the difficulties that lie ahead, especially after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s latest speech, which wasn’t really moderate,” said Nabil de Freije.


The recent fighting in Lebanon broke out after the government tried to investigate Hezbollah’s private telecommunication network and to fire the head of airport security, who was seen to be close to the guerrilla group. Lebanon’s rifts remain unsolved.


Siniora will serve as PM until the elections in early 2009, in which the majority leader Saad Hariri, son of slain former PM Rafic Hariri, is expected to lead the anti Syrian opposition.


“Fouad Siniora’s mandate will be very short – eight months – until the parliamentary elections in 2009. In this short term he will have tough missions to complete. Hariri wasn’t necessarily prepared to undertake this burden.”


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