Last week, the last-minute decision by Sunni political leader Saad Al-Hariri to support Michel Aoun’s bid for the Lebanese presidency turned the political tides in Aoun’s favor, making him Lebanon’s new leader after 45 months without a head of state.
The vote by Lebanese MPs during a chaotic parliamentary session brought Aoun just under the two-thirds majority he was expected to obtain, and well above the requisite number of votes to be elected.
It was widely believed that Hariri’s support would be dependent on being appointed prime minister in Aoun’s new government. This week, Aoun confirmed that Hariri would be appointed prime minister after he received 112 out of 127 parliamentary votes for the position.
In the Lebanese political system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minster a Sunni Muslim, and the parliamentary speaker a Shiite Muslim. The system represents Lebanon’s mixed religious composition but often leads to debilitating political impasses.
Hopes have been high that Hariri could help the Lebanese government to move forward because of his support by both Aoun and house speaker Nabih Berri, a Shiite. Berri had previously not supported Hariri as speaker because of his opposition to Mr. Aoun as President.
“If there was no intention to cooperate, we would not have named him”, said Berri to a reporter when asked whether the decision meant that Berri and Hariri had set aside their disagreements.
“I accepted the task,” said Hariri after meeting with President Aoun. He went on to thank Aoun and the Lebanese MPs for entrusting him with the position.
On Thursday, Mr. Hariri vowed to work to form a government that represents all sections of Lebanese society and could face the country’s paralyzing internal divisions.
“I will be open to all parliamentary blocs, including those who did not name me, in accordance with our Constitution and our democratic values,” he said.
Notably, the powerful “Hezbollah bloc”, a Shiite parliamentary group, did not offer Hariri their support. However, Speaker Berri’s Amal Movement, another Shiite parliamentary bloc, gave Hariri its support.
“I look forward to starting the consultations to form a national unity government that overcomes political divisions,” Hariri went on, “based on the consensus of all political forces on the inaugural speech with all its provisions.”
The groups that did not support Hariri’s nomination–Hezbollah, the Syrian Social National Party, and the Lebanese Baath party–all support Bashar al-Assad‘s regime in Syria. Aoun is, however, a Hezbollah ally and drew powerful support to Hariri in order to obtain the nomination.
Hariri enjoys a large base of support and is the son of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a bombing attack in 2005. Hariri, a former businessman, is also supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
During his first televised speech as prime minster, Hariri said he would work quickly to form a national unity government that would restore the world’s trust in Lebanon’s damaged economy.
“We owe it to the Lebanese people to start working as soon as possible to protect our country from the flames burning around it,” he said.
Ghazi Wazni, economic adviser for the Finance Parliamentary Committee, said that Aoun’s assumption of the presidency and Hariri’s appointment as prime minister could create a $51 billion boost for Syria’s economy. Lebanon has struggled to accommodate 1.5 million Syrian refugees and has been hurt by political instability and the occasional violence that spills over from neighboring Syria’s conflict, all of which has hurt investor confidence in Lebanon.
“Saad Hariri means confidence for Lebanon,” said Wazni. He noted recent boosts in property prices and stocks for large Lebanese companies.