As expected, the Lebanese Parliament voted Saad Hariri for the Premiership and President Michel Suleiman quickly designated him to form a new government. In a meeting with Hassan Nasrallah Thursday night Hariri reportedly made his position on the composition of the next government clear. According to as-Safir, Mustaqbal leader proposed a government of 30 ministers distributed between the Majority, Opposition, and President at a ratio of 16:10:4 respectively. Obviously this does not include a “blocking third” for the Opposition, though it does allot the President four ministers. On the other hand, the President and MPs close to him prefer a 15:10:5 formula which would deny both March 14 a simple majority of ministers and March 8 a blocking third.
Curiously, details of the Nasrallah-Hariri meeting remain vague. While a joint statement was singed by both leaders, it was not made available to the public. al-Akhbar reports that Nasrallah, “talked about the necessity of there being guarantees that permit the Parliamentary minority to participate, particularly that it obtain a blocking third.” However, thus far both Hezbollah and Amal have refrained from publicly demanding the blocking third. In my view this suggests that the Opposition (or at least the two leading Shia factions) may be willing to forgo the veto in favor of a carefully worded Ministerial Statement that is favorable to the Resistance and its arms. Nevertheless, the al-Akhbar piece cited above also mentions that a “consensus” has emerged within the Opposition to present a unified position in favor of the veto and avoid past divisions.
Naturally, the deliberations over the government are not isolated from regional politics. Fortunately for Hariri, the Saudi-Syrian reconcilliation initiated earlier this year in Kuwait continues apace. A recent meeting between the Mukhabirat chiefs of the two states discussed pressing Lebanese issues such as drawing the border between Syria and Lebanon, Palestinian weapons outside of the camps, and Hezbollah’s weapons. Predictably, the two sides were not able to reach a consensus on the Party of God’s weapons. Still the improvement in Saudi-Syrian relations will help facilitate Hariri’s task in the sense that neither state will likely lean heavily on its Lebanese allies as a tool against regional rivals.
The blocking third is more important to the Christian Opposition leaders than it is to either Hezbollah or Amal as I explain here. Within the Majority there has been a consistent and unambiguous rejection of the blocking third since long before the election. Given the apparent divisions within the Opposition as of late, I expect that they are more ripe for compromise on the blocking third than the Majority. Therefore, in the next few days the most substantive bargaining should occur within the ranks of the Opposition and not at the international level or even between March 14 and March 8.