The son of assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri has been chosen to form the next Lebanese government, following parliamentary elections on June 7th which gave his pro-Western coalition a majority. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman appointed Mr. Hariri on Saturday. Mr. Hariri's selection appears to indicate that the country's rival political forces have buried the hatchet after several years of political and military sparring.
The selection of Mr. Saad Hariri to follow in his father's footsteps as Prime Minister of Lebanon came as little surprise to most observers, and it was yet another signal of a political ceasefire between the country's warring political factions.
The 39-year-old US-educated new Prime Minister inherited his slain father's political dynasty after the elder Hariri's assassination in February of 2005. Mr. Hariri later became parliamentary majority leader after elections in June 2005, after Syria withdrew its army from the country.
Speaking to the press at Lebanon's presidential palace, Saturday, Mr. Hariri vowed to work to end the political rift that has torn the country apart since 2007, leading to the worst street-fighting since civil war ended in 1990.
He also spoke of picking up the torch of his slain father and the legacy of other victims of recent political strife. He said that he is picking up from the place where his slain father and political mentor left off along with all the other victims of liberty and independence for Lebanon.
Mr. Hariri met Friday with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's main opposition group, Hezbollah. Both leaders promised to turn the page on past differences to form a new unity government.
The pro-Western parliamentary coalition which selected Mr. Hariri to form the government also voted to re-elect veteran opposition parliament speaker Nabih Berri, in a gesture to heal months of political bickering.
Despite the apparent display of national unity between Mr. Hariri's coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition, the new Prime Minister insists that he will not grant Hezbollah the same veto power it had acquired by force to wield over the outgoing government.
In the aftermath of the bitter and rancorous parliamentary election on June 7th, political debate in Lebanon has been mostly subdued.
Many analysts think that the decrease in political tensions in the country is due largely to a regional agreement between Syria, Saudi Arabia, the US and France to put aside their differences over Lebanon.
Sami Baroudi, who is professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, said that the acid test will come when Mr. Hariri tries to form his government. "I think the challenge lies ahead. Nobody was expecting any other person other than Hariri to be named Prime Minister. It's primarily a legal process. The president has to go with what the majority says….I think there is enough regional understanding, there is enough support in Lebanon for getting out of this crisis," he said.
He is worried, however, that Mr. Hariri might discover unexpected obstacles when he tries to form his government. "If things stall in terms of forming a new government, then that would signal that there isn't enough trust among the parties to get to a government and that the vague regional understanding in terms of stabilizing Lebanon is not fully developed. We don't really know to what extent there is this Syrian-Saudi support for normalizing things in Lebanon," he said.
One key issue facing Mr. Hariri is what action to take over the international tribunal charged with prosecuting the assassination of his father and a dozen other victims. Many Lebanese leaders have accused Syria of the crime, a charge which Damascus denies.