BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s president formally asked caretaker premier Saad Hariri on Thursday to form a new Cabinet after the vast majority of legislators named him as their choice for the position of prime minister.
Hariri’s appointment comes amid a struggling economy, rising tensions in the Middle East, and a new wave of sanctions against the militant Hezbollah group raising concerns that they might hamper the new government formation.
After a day of consultations between President Michel Aoun and 128 legislators, 111 named Hariri as their choice to form a new Cabinet while the rest, including Hezbollah’s bloc and some of its allies, did not give a name. Hariri’s nomination comes after this month’s parliamentary elections in which Hezbollah and its allies increased their presence in the legislature.
“I extend my hand to all political elements. We should work together to achieve what the Lebanese people are looking for,” Hariri told reporters shortly after Aoun formally asked him to form the Cabinet.
Asked if there is a veto on Hezbollah’s participation in the new Cabinet, Hariri said, “I only heard that from the Lebanese media. This is the first time I hear it.”
Hariri added: “I am open to all elements and never closed the door in front of anyone.”
Hezbollah, which has 13 seats in the 128-member legislature, did not name its own candidate for the premiership as it has done in the past — signaling it will likely go along with Hariri’s re-appointment despite tense relations between the Iran-allied Shiite group and the Western-backed Hariri.
A UN-backed tribunal has indicted five Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father and former premier Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah denies the charges.
“We have confirmed our readiness to take part in the next government and to deal positively with whomever is named by the majority,” Mohammed Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s bloc in parliament, said after meeting Aoun.
Hariri will most likely work on forming a national unity Cabinet, similar to the one he’s been heading since 2016.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who attended the meeting between Hariri and Aoun on Thursday afternoon said: “It will be a national unity government and will have wide representation.”
A wave of sanctions by the United States and its Arab allies has targeted Hezbollah, which made gains in this month’s balloting and which says it wants to play a bigger role in Lebanon’s new government. Those demands could complicate Hariri’s mission in the coming weeks.