BEIRUT: MP Tammam Salam emerged Thursday as a strong candidate to head the next government, with sources saying the politician was a man rival political sides could agree on to form the next Cabinet.
As Salam’s name was being circulated as the lead candidate, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati ended speculation he would return to head the next government by announcing he would not accept the post of prime-minister designate.
Political sources, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said all signs pointed to Salam being chosen as Lebanon’s future prime minister.
They said Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, regarded as the country’s political kingmaker, had contacted parties in March 8 Wednesday over Salam’s candidacy and urged them to endorse him.
Jumblatt, the sources said, argued that Salam, despite having won a parliamentary seat on a Lebanon First electoral list in the 2009 elections, was not a ‘provocative’ candidate to the March 8 alliance.
March 8 will likely endorse Salam but will announce its final decision later in the day, the sources said.
Salam headed early Thursday for talks with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Saudi Arabia, where, according to the sources, he would receive the blessing of the Future Movement leader.
According to Hariri's office, the Beirut MPs held talks for over two hours that touched on the formation of a new Cabinet and political developments.
Rivals political blocs continued talks Thursday over the naming of their candidate for prime minister-designate ahead of parliamentary consultations that will be launched by President Michel Sleiman on April 5 and April 6.
Lebanese Democratic Party chief MP Talal Arslan, who spoke to reporters following a meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, said he hoped Berri would be delegated with choosing a consensual figure to head the next government “because we believe he is the [most] competent person to do so.”
“I hope all politicians from the different camps will delegate Berri with finding a social or political consensual figure, because we have full confidence in him and his ability to secure [an agreement] according to the country's needs,” Arslan said.
Speaking on behalf of March 8 parties Wednesday, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh said the group headed by Hezbollah was considering a consensus candidate to lead the next Cabinet.
On Tuesday, the Future parliamentary bloc called for the formation of a new Cabinet whose members were not candidates in the elections.
Sources close to Salam told The Daily Star Thursday that the opposition lawmaker has pledged not to run for the June elections if he is tasked with forming a new government.
Sleiman accepted the resignation of Mikati’s government on March 23 after a fallout among ministers over extending the mandate of security officials due to retirement, and the formation of a committee to oversee the upcoming elections.
Mikati said Thursday he would not accept taking the helm of the government once again.
“Today, more than ever, I still call on all parties to abide by the principles of national reconciliation so that they can all steer Lebanon past the rough waters and the storm,” Mikati said in a statement.
“I have repeatedly stressed that any government to be formed must be a national salvation government, made up of all the political components of the Lebanese fabric," he added.
“Based on this, I apologize in advance and sincerely thank all those who would name me for this task."
“I cannot accept this [post] unless I receive consensus from the majority of the parties and partners in the country. There is no room for success without national cohesion," Mikati added.