Sat, Jan 22, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Druze leader holds Lebanon’s political fate in his hands

AFP and Reuters, BEIRUT

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt was set to play kingmaker yesterday in Lebanon’s deepening political crisis, as the country waited for him to announce which camp he would side with in the fierce battle to form a new government.

Political officials said Jumblatt was expected to throw his weight behind the powerful Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah party, which is locked in a standoff with Western-backed caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Jumblatt, a former key ally of Hariri, was to hold a press conference after meeting with his parliamentary bloc.

The Druze chieftain has 11 deputies — among them five Christians and a Sunni — in parliament and should he garner the backing of seven lawmakers that would allow Hezbollah and its allies to impose their candidate for the prime minister.

Hezbollah’s camp has 57 seats in parliament against 60 seats for Hariri’s coalition. It needs to secure the backing of eight deputies outside its alliance in order to come out the winner

“It is clear that Jumblatt fears sectarian violence and has no other choice but to back Hezbollah,” one official close to his parliamentary bloc said.

“We are hanging by a thread and maybe if Hezbollah has its way the situation won’t escalate into violence,” he added, requesting anonymity.

Hezbollah brought down Hariri’s unity government last week because of a dispute over a UN tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Tension soared further after the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Monday issued a sealed indictment in the case, which Hezbollah has said will implicate party members.

Two days of mediation by Qatari and Turkish ministers ended in failure on Thursday.

In a televised address to the nation on Thursday, a defiant Saad Hariri said he would stand for another term, despite calls by Hezbollah and its allies for him to stand down.

“They came back to [mediators] with only one demand: It is not acceptable that Saad al Hariri return to [lead] the government,” Hariri said.

“They have put aside all terms of solutions and demanded Saad al Hariri be excluded ... We will go to constitutional talks on Monday with me as a candidate,” he said.

He said Lebanon was facing “a crucial time in its history” and accused Hezbollah and its allies of trying to assassinate him politically.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman was to begin consultations on Monday with parliamentary groups on appointing a new prime minister

Hezbollah and its allies are widely expected to nominate Omar Karameh, who has already served twice as prime minister.

Lebanon’s power-sharing system requires the president to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.

Ahmad Fatfat, a lawmaker with Saad Hariri’s bloc, said in the event his camp did not manage to garner enough votes in parliament for Hariri to be reappointed prime minister that it would not join a government led by Hezbollah and its allies.

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