The resignation of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri triggers an opportunity for the Lebanese political system, including its partners in Syria, to make badly needed changes. It would be a terrible missed opportunity for the Lebanese Parliament and the wider political system to choose a new prime minister and cabinet during these changing times using static tools from the past.
Lebanon faces the urgent imperative of making political, economic and judicial reforms, or else the cumulative stresses and vulnerabilities that have plagued the country in recent years will lead to irresolvable problems and greater suffering. Syria faces the same challenge of domestic reform, and it is also the focus of diplomatic pressure by the U.S. and major European powers that have sponsored, and now pursue, Security Council Resolution 1559.
In this context, naming a new Lebanese prime minister and government should be seized as an opportunity to get out of the same old box of Syrian-guided Lebanese politics, and instead move Lebanon forward on the path of reform, change and prosperity. The first step toward this goal would be a new prime minister and government, working closely with the president and parliament, that commit firmly and seriously to deep reforms in the areas that matter most: promoting a truly independent judiciary, as the foundation for a new electoral law, economic and education reforms, and other related changes. This would be a powerful diplomatic tool that could deflect external pressures, develop regional credibility and promote domestic well-being. A reformed Lebanese system would provide a platform much more conducive to a real dialogue with Syria, and it would also support Syria in its increasingly testy relations with Europe and the U.S.
Hariri remains the most suitable candidate if the president and the wider Lebanese political system can agree to embark on the reform path. But if Hariri is out, Parliament and the president should go beyond the traditional faces and widen the scope of candidates for prime minister. Lebanon has many individuals with the professional, personal, intellectual and political depth to move Lebanon from stagnation to rejuvenation. Two examples of the desired type of person we have in mind are State Council member Khaled Qabbani or former minister and Arab Fund director Saeb Jaroudi. Dozens of other men of this caliber should be considered to give the country the fresh start and serious commitment to reform that it urgently needs.