Consensus builds on new Lebanon PM
Beirut: Tamam Salam, a moderate member of Lebanon's Western- and Saudi-backed opposition, emerged on Friday as a consensus candidate to take over as prime minister.
The post has been vacant since March 22 when prime minister Najib Mikati announced his surprise resignation, in effect bringing down his Hezbollah-dominated government.
Parliamentary representatives were to begin submitting their nominations for the post to President Michel Sleiman on Friday afternoon, with Salam winning the endorsement of the opposition March 14 coalition and Walid Jumblatt, the veteran kingmaker who leads Lebanon's Druze community.
Initial reports said Salam could also have the backing of the governing coalition which groups Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies.
The two-day nomination process aims to resolve the crisis sparked by Mikati's resignation, which came as the conflict in neighbouring Syria deepens tensions within Lebanon's multi-confessional population.
Mikati led a government dominated by the so-called March 8 coalition, made up of Iran-allied Hezbollah and its partners, who back the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad against a now two-year-old revolt.
The opposition March 14 alliance backs the uprising, and despite an official Lebanese policy of "dissociation" from the conflict, both sides of the political spectrum have accused each other of interfering in the fighting.
The 128-seat Lebanese parliament includes 61 members from the Hezbollah-led coalition, with 60 seats held by the opposition.
Jumblatt, who holds seven seats, has charted a complex political path.
He is fiercely opposed to the Syrian regime, but has also stood by Hezbollah, opposing any attempt to disarm the group by force.
The opposition announced their support for Salam on Thursday evening, with former prime minister Fouad Siniora saying he was a "unanimous" choice because of his "national and moral engagement."
"We wish Mr Salam good luck in leading the country through the present circumstances," Siniora told an opposition meeting in Beirut.
"It's a great national responsibility... I thank my brothers in the March 14 coalition," Salam said at the meeting.
Jumblatt's endorsement followed shortly afterwards in an interview on Lebanese television.
"Salam is the voice of moderation... He's never said a bad word against the resistance (Hezbollah)," he said, calling for a national unity government to include representatives from across the political spectrum.
Salam is a son of Saib Salam, who served six terms as prime minister between 1952 and 1973, and died in 2000.
He is a Sunni -- tradition dictates that Lebanon's prime minister hail from the sect -- and is well-regarded across the political spectrum, despite being a member of the March 14 alliance.
Salam was first elected a Beirut MP in 1996, and re-elected in 2009. A graduate of economics and management in England and married with three children, he served as culture minister between 2008 and 2009.