BEIRUT (AP) — A potential kingmaker in Lebanese politics threw his support Friday behind Hezbollah, a major boost to the Shiite militant group that brought down the country’s Western-backed government last week.
Walid Jumblatt, the influential leader of the Druse sect, refused to say exactly how many lawmakers are with him, but his support is key for any candidate trying to form a government.
In recent days, Jumblatt has gone to Damascus for meetings with Hezbollah’s patron, Syria.
“The party will stand firm in support of Syria and the resistance,” Jumblatt told reporters, referring to Hezbollah by the popular term.
Lebanon is enduring a serious political crisis over a U.N. tribunal investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many fear Hezbollah will react violently if its members are named in the court’s indictments, which is widely expected.
Ministers from Hezbollah and its allies walked out of the government, forcing its collapse, last week when Prime Minister Saad Hariri — the son of the slain statesman — refused to renounce the tribunal.
Once one of the most ardent supporters of the tribunal, Jumblatt on Friday launched a scathing attack on the court, saying it poses a “threat to national unity and national security.”
The support of at least 65 lawmakers is required to form a government in Lebanon’s 128-seat Parliament. Hezbollah and its allies already claim 57 seats.
Saad Hariri — who has stayed on as caretaker prime minister and will seek the post again — has 60.
Jumblatt refused to say whether he had secured the support of enough lawmakers to allow Hezbollah and its allies to form their own government. But he is known to have at least five from his 11-member bloc, which means he needed to get just three more to tip the balance.
President Michel Suleiman will launch formal talks Monday on creating a new government, polling lawmakers on their choices before nominating a prime minister. According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Each faith makes up about a third of Lebanon’s population of 4 million.
Lengthy negotiations could lie ahead between Lebanon’s Western-backed blocs and the Hezbollah led-alliance. If those fail, Lebanon could see a resurgence of the street protests and violence that have bedeviled the country in the past.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, is Lebanon’s most potent military force.