Lebanese president says to appoint Hizbullah-backed former minister as PM



This picture taken on October 3rd, 2012, shows then-Education Minister Hassan Diab attending a conference in the Lebanese capital Beirut. Diab, a professor at the American University of Beirut and a former education minister, was tipped by Lebanese media as former PM Saad al-Hariri's likely successor. [Stringer/AFP]

Lebanese president Michel Aoun will name Hizbullah-backed Hassan Diab as the protest-hit country's prime minister, the presidency said Thursday (December 19th), ending nearly two months of political wrangling.

"After binding parliamentary consultations... the president has summoned... Hassan Diab to appoint him to form a government," the presidency said in a statement after the twice-delayed talks ended on Thursday.

Caretaker premier Saad al-Hariri pulled out of the race on Wednesday and his bloc did not nominate any candidate when much-delayed consultations to form a new government got under way at the presidential palace.

The appointment of Diab would yield a lopsided government that observers warn could fuel sectarian tensions on the streets and complicate efforts to secure international aid needed to pull Lebanon back from the brink of default.

Al-Hariri resigned seven weeks ago under pressure from an unprecedented wave of protests demanding a complete overhaul of the political system, leaving the country without a government to tackle its worst ever economic crisis.

Diab, a professor at the American University of Beirut and a former education minister, was endorsed by Hizbullah, which with its allies holds a majority in parliament.

Aoun launched the twice delayed official talks to designate a new prime minister on Thursday, meeting with all parliamentary blocs.

The talks were opened with a meeting between Aoun and al-Hariri, whose Future Movement did not nominate a candidate and is now expected to be excluded from the next government.

The 49-year-old prominent Sunni leader had in recent days been seen as the most likely choice to head a technocrat-dominated government, but he announced late Wednesday he was pulling out.

Fears of a Hizbullah-dominated government

Imad Salamey, a political science professor at the Lebanese American University, said the appointment of Diab will only "deepen" Lebanon's crisis.

"If Diab is appointed as premier, then the coming government will be dominated by Hizbullah (and its allies)," he said.

This could drown the revolution in sectarian discourse, he said.

Diab describes himself on his website as "one of the rare technocrat ministers since Lebanon's independence".

It remains to be seen how protestors will react to Diab, who is not politically affiliated and largely unknown among the public.

Three days after the start of the anti-government protests, he called them a "historic and awe-inspiring scene".

"The Lebanese people have united to defend their rights to a free and dignified life," he wrote on Twitter.

While the huge crowds that filled the squares of Beirut and other Lebanese cities two months ago have dwindled, the protest movement is still alive and keeping politicians in check.

Tensions have been further heightened by the looming bankruptcy of the debt-ridden Lebanese state.

A government dominated by Hizbullah, which has been targeted by US sanctions, is unlikely to secure billions of dollars in frozen aid.

The Lebanese pound, officially pegged to the US dollar, has lost around 30% of its value on the black market, while companies have been paying half-salaries over the past two months as well as laying off employees.

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