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After Aoun deal, Lebanon’s two major parties back Hariri for PM

Sunni leader was promised prime minister’s job in return for supporting ex-general and Hezbollah ally as president

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri waves to journalists, shown before his election upon his arrival to the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri waves to journalists, shown before his election upon his arrival to the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon, October 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s two major parliamentary blocs on Tuesday named Saad Hariri, a former prime minister and a Sunni leader, as their candidate for premier in the government to be formed after a new president was elected.

The widely expected endorsement by the Future bloc, led by Hariri, and the majority Christian bloc comes a day after Michel Aoun was elected president.

Hariri was promised the post in exchange for backing Aoun’s presidential bid in parliament, ending a two-and-half-year deadlock that left Lebanon without a president.

Aoun is receiving the different parliamentary blocs Wednesday before naming the prime minister, likely before the weekend.

In the country’s sectarian-based political system, the prime minister, always a Sunni, is likely to face a daunting job, balancing different and often rival groups, to form a new Cabinet.

Supporters of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement celebrate the election of their leader Michel Aoun in the town of Jdeideh, north of Beirut, on October 31, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/MARWAN TAHTAH)
Supporters of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement celebrate the election of their leader Michel Aoun in the town of Jdeideh, north of Beirut, on October 31, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/MARWAN TAHTAH)

Just as the prime minister is always a Sunni, the president always comes from Lebanon’s Christian population, while the speaker of parliament is always a Shia.

Gebran Bassil, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement of Aoun, said they back Hariri’s nomination for the premier post.

“We accept whoever accepts us. All our votes will go to Hariri because he recognized us and we will side with him in all the difficulties he will face,” Bassil told reporters.

Lebanon has been without a head of state since May 2014. According to the power sharing system governing Lebanese politics since 1990s, the president must be a Maronite Christian.

Parliament failed in 45 different sessions to vote for a president, amid political infighting and boycotts, before Monday’s election of Aoun.

A giant picture of the newly-elected Lebanese President Michel Aoun is seen behind the Statue of Martyrs created by Italian artist Marino Mazzacurati, during a rally at Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. Lebanon's parliament on Monday elected Michel Aoun, an 81-year-old former army commander and strong ally of the militant group Hezbollah, as the country's president, ending a more than two-year vacuum in the top post and a political crisis that brought state institutions perilously close to collapse. Arabic on the picture reads "Republic". (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
A giant picture of the newly-elected Lebanese President Michel Aoun is seen behind the Statue of Martyrs created by Italian artist Marino Mazzacurati, during a rally at Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Harri’s about-face in support of Aoun last month broke the deadlock and changed the political landscape in Lebanon, bringing old-time foes on the same side, while allies differed.

Hariri, 46, served as prime minister briefly between late 2009 and 2011, when his government was brought down by powerful Lebanese Hezbollah group, now a major Aoun backer. He since left Lebanon, and was a vocal critic of Hezbollah. He returned earlier this year, sounding a more conciliatory tone.

Hariri is the son of late prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005 with massive bomb on a Beirut seaside street.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington that Secretary of State John Kerry called both Hariri and Aoun to congratulate them and express, “our desire to see now that the Lebanese people have a chief executive, to see that Lebanon can move forward.”

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