Hariri pulls out of race for PM

SAAD Hariri will not run for prime minister, despite making a clean sweep of last week’s Beirut elections. Arabian Business has learned that Hariri — whose party won all 19 seats contested in Beirut — is expected to give way to one of his close political allies, whom he believes has more political experience.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  June 5, 2005

SAAD Hariri will not run for prime minister, despite making a clean sweep of last week’s Beirut elections. Arabian Business has learned that Hariri — whose party won all 19 seats contested in Beirut — is expected to give way to one of his close political allies, whom he believes has more political experience. The May 29 poll in Beirut, the first of four nationwide polls, was widely seen as a tribute to former prime minister Rafik Hariri, whose February assassination triggered international anger and street protests, which ultimately drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon. Official results show that Saad Hariri, the 35-year-old son of the former premier, was the biggest vote-getter, collecting 39,499 votes, five times more than the distant loser in one constituency. However, turnout was low, at about 28% of the 473,652 eligible voters, compared with 35% in the 2000 parliamentary elections. Hariri’s party is expected to continue its sweep of the parliamentary elections being held, and most of his followers and international observers are expecting Hariri himself to follow his father’s footsteps into office. But sources close to the Hariri family have confirmed to Arabian Business that he is not planning to take the top job, saying he lacks wider political experience and feels a more accomplished politician should become prime minister. Among those likely to be in contention are Bahij Tabbara and the current interim prime minister Najib Mikati. The current round of elections is set to continue until June 19. Once a new parliament is elected, its first role will be to elect a new speaker. Nabih Berri, who heads the Shiite militia Amal and is a pro-Syrian loyalist, has held the post for the past 13 years. Most of the newly elected members of parliament are initially expected to focus on removing Berri, and Lebanese president Emile Lahoud. The new parliament will then nominate a prime minister, after which a vote of confidence will be held in the newly elected government. “Saad could well find himself nominated, but why should he expose himself, when he can put someone who is more experienced?” said a source close to the family, adding that “once a new election law is drafted and they achieve their political goals, it is likely that he will become premier in a year’s time”. Former exiled general Michael Aoun, who returned to Lebanon on May 7, was also seen as a front-runner before the elections, but his challenge failed after his inability to forge concrete alliances with the main opposition parties — leading him to ironically join together with pro-Syrian contenders. Before the elections, Aoun — who heads the Free Patriotic Movement — led calls for a boycott of the polls. His supporters took to the streets of Beirut dressed in orange shirts, handing out “Do not vote” flyers. They described the elections as “appointments”. The United States and other outside governments that had strongly pushed for a Syrian troop withdrawal also watched the vote closely. Syria withdrew its 14,000 troops from Lebanon in April this year, on the back of massive demonstrations in Lebanon and mounting international pressure. The current chain of events began on February 14 with a bomb blast in Beirut that killed Rafik Hariri and 20 others. Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for United Nations (UN) secretary-general Kofi Annan, said the UN chief was satisfied that the first round of elections had been undertaken fairly. “These elections constitute a major opportunity for the Lebanese people to shape their own future, to strengthen their political institutions and to restore their full sovereignty,” Annan said in a statement. More than 100 observers from the European Union and the UN watched the vote for irregularities, the first time Lebanon has permitted foreign scrutiny.

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