Military bands and an honor guard salute greeted Lebanese President Michel Suleiman yesterday as he entered Lebanon’s presidential palace to begin the monumental task of uniting a wounded nation and reconciling its rival political factions.
Suleiman, who was elected on Sunday, was greeted by applauding staffers on a red carpet at the palace in hilly Baabda near Beirut, rather than by an outgoing president as is normally the custom.
Lebanon has been without a head of state since November, when Emile Lahoud left office without a successor.
Cannons fired 21 shots to salute Suleiman, as a brass band played Lebanon’s national anthem.
Earlier yesterday, Suleiman bid farewell at Beirut’s airport to the emir of Qatar, who brokered a deal among Lebanese politicians last week that led to the election. Parliament had failed to elect a new president 19 times over the past six months.
Suleiman is expected to begin consultations with legislators over the formation of a new government as early as today.
He faces a daunting task. Under the terms of the agreement reached last week in Doha, a new national unity Cabinet will be formed in which Hezbollah and its allies have veto power.
Prime Minister Fuad Siniora’s Cabinet was considered dissolved upon Suleiman’s election on Sunday. But the new president asked Siniora to stay on as caretaker until a new administration is formed.
Once parliamentary leaders name a new prime minister, that person would then present a Cabinet lineup for the president’s approval.
The Cabinet then needs to draft a policy statement to present to parliament for a vote of confidence.
The majority is expected to choose the prime minister from its ranks. Siniora or majority coalition leader Saad Hariri are among those mentioned in the media as candidates.
The president, who has limited powers, has no choice but to approve the choice of the majority of legislators he polls. But the head of state can block a Cabinet’s formation if he doesn’t approve the lineup presented by the prime minister-designate.
Cabinet posts will be distributed according to the Doha agreement: 16 for the majority, 11 for the opposition and three for president, who heads the Cabinet. The group must also respect an equal split between Christians and Muslims.
The agreement also calls for a new election law under which elections will be held next year.
“I call on you all, people and politicians, for a new beginning,” Suleiman said after he was sworn in on Sunday. “Let us be united.”