BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora began talks with Lebanese lawmakers on Friday on forming a national unity government in which Hezbollah-led minority factions will wield veto power.
The new cabinet will give Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its allies the power to block key decisions. But its advent will also be another step towards reviving state institutions after an 18-month political crisis that paralysed government and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.
A Qatari-mediated deal earlier this month ended a sometimes violent standoff between the U.S.-backed ruling coalition and the opposition spearheaded by the Shi’ite Hezbollah group.
Under the agreement, majority factions will be allocated 16 ministers, the opposition 11 and the president three.
Lebanon’s new president, former army chief Michel Suleiman, reappointed Siniora prime minister on Wednesday, asking him to form a cabinet set to rule until a 2009 parliamentary election.
Siniora will consult members of parliament from across the political spectrum in talks expected to last into next week.
Suleiman himself is likely to have a big say in selecting a neutral figure for the post of interior minister, who will have the task of overseeing the parliamentary elections.
While the Doha agreement resolved a dispute over electoral constituencies, conduct of the elections is a sensitive issue in Lebanon’s delicate sectarian power-sharing system.
The Lebanese political conflict turned violent this month, when 81 people were killed during a Hezbollah-led offensive that routed government supporters in Beirut and elsewhere.
The Qatar agreement reflected the new balance of power by enshrining the opposition’s long-standing demand for veto power.
Whatever government emerges will face divisive issues that include the fate of Hezbollah’s weapons and an international tribunal being set up under U.N. auspices to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.