BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said Tuesday he enjoyed large Sunni representation, vowing to form a government that would safeguard national coexistence and resolve the challenges facing Lebanon.
Mikati said his government would not seek confrontation with the West amid mounting concerns over Lebanon’s ties with the international community as the new cabinet is expected to halt cooperation with the U.N.-backed tribunal investigating statesman Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
“Why make assumptions that we are set to confront the West? What are the basic factors for such a confrontation? How do such rumors emerge? I am surprised,” Mikati said.
While Mikati said he was a consensus candidate, caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition has refused to participate in the new Cabinet, with March 14 groups labeling the Mikati as Hezbollah’s nominee and unrepresentative of the Sunni community.
President Michel Sleiman appointed Mikati as prime minister after the Hizbullah-led March 8 new parliamentary majority nominated him to head the Cabinet at the end of two-day binding parliamentary consultations.
Touching on the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which led to the collapse of Hariri’s government after it refused to halt cooperation with the tribunal, Mikati said he was determined to resolve disputed issues within the confines of constitutional institutions.
Mikati told reporters at Baabda Presidential Palace that overcoming obstacles called for “exceptional steps” in cooperation with all Lebanese leaders. “I extend my hand to everyone to build rather than destroy and to learn from the past so as to make a winning bet and save ourselves and Lebanon,” he added.
“There is no justification for any political group to sideline itself and refrain from joining the Cabinet.”
Mikati, a wealthy businessman who ran in the June 2009 parliamentary polls in alliance with Hariri in Tripoli, was designated as a consensus prime minister in 2005 tasked with preparing for the May 2005 parliamentary elections.
His designation at the time followed the collapse of then-Prime Minister Omar Karami’s government after the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
The STL indictment likely to be made public in six to 10 weeks is widely believed to implicate Hezbollah members, with Mikati’s government expected to abolish the protocol of cooperation with the court promptly after its formation.
In a bid to ease tensions with Hariri after demonstrations erupted across Lebanese territories in support of the caretaker prime minister and in condemnation of Mikati, the latter said he would “govern justly and responsibly away from retribution but also with firmness and determination.”
“The outcome of the consultations should not be regarded as a victory of one group against another,” he said. “I will remain as Tripoli taught me; impartial in my positions and policies and firm in serving Lebanon’s interests.”
Playing down the magnitude of protests, Mikati said a majority of Tripoli’s residents remained home relative to the number of people who took to the streets.
Later Tuesday, Mikati said in a televised interview with LBC that “when [disputed] matters come to an end, Hariri will realize that I am one of the closest persons to him.”
Mikati called on political leaders to take into consideration Lebanese dynamics “because every time the Lebanese disagreed they ended up paying the price.”
He said his government’s policy statement would underscore its commitment to economic and social issues as a top priority on its agenda.
However, Mikati refused to elaborate on the structure of the new government, saying it could embrace either technocrats or a combination of both technocrats and politicians.
“I will not assume a position with regard to the government’s structure currently but I hope for the participation of all parties and if some refuse [to join the cabinet], I will decide on either a technocrat cabinet or a combined one in cooperation with President Michel Sleiman,” he said.
Mikati also rejected attempts to cast him as “Hezbollah’s man” and said the dispute the U.N.-backed tribunal could only be resolved through dialogue.
“I say in all honesty that my nomination by Hezbollah does not mean I am bound by any of their political positions, except as concerns the protection of the national resistance,” he said.