Syrian National Coalition elects Ghassan Hitto as provisional premier

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Syrian opposition coalition members on Tuesday elected former businessman Ghassan Hitto as provisional prime minister in a meeting in Istanbul.

Hitto , who will now be in charge of forming a government to fill a power vacuum in Syria, won 35 out of 48 votes, according to comments made by coalition members after the vote.

“I give great thanks to the heroes and revolutionaries of the Syrian people. We are with you,” Hitto told coalition members in brief remarks after he was named.

The vote came after some 14 hours of closed-door consultations among 70-odd Coalition members, with some members describing Hitto as a consensus candidate pleasing both the opposition’s Islamist and liberal factions.

But other Coalition members withdrew from the consultations before the vote could take place, reflecting divisions within Syria’s opposition.

When the voting finally took place, a total of 48 Coalition members placed their ballots in a transparent box located at the front of a conference hall in an Istanbul hotel, where the much-awaited meeting took place.

“This is a transparent, democratic vote,” said Coalition chief Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib.

Hitto arrived in the conference hall minutes after the count, and was met with a round of applause as he shook hands with Coalition members.

He was described by his supporters as a man that was a qualified manager untainted by the coalition’s internal political struggles.

“A near consensus emerged on Hitto. He is a practical man with management experience and is open to debate. He promised to consult widely before naming ministers and only appoint those with a long experience,” Mohammad Qaddah, the coalition’s representative from Deraa, told Reuters.

Who is Hitto?

Until last year, he was a senior executive at a technology communications firm in Texas, with a role in local civic life, but largely focused on his job of more than a decade.

His resume touts 25 years of experience with high-tech and telecommunications companies, including 16 years in executive management roles.

But in November he abruptly quit his job “to join the ranks of the Syrian revolution.”

Hitto had already become involved in humanitarian aid work, establishing the Shaam Relief Foundation in 2011, and helped organise fundraisers including a “Walk for Children of Syria Day.”

A devout Muslim, he has been involved for more than a decade with the running of the Brighter Horizons Academy, a Texas school billed as “an educational institution conducive to an Islamic learning environment.”

“Hope... comes from Allah. Our brothers and sisters inside Syria came to this realization way back,” he said at a fundraiser for Syrian children last year.

“He loves us and will take care of us... (he) will bring relief, will take care of the people of Syria, will feed the people of Syria, will defend the people of Syria, and he alone can do that... but we must take action today,” he added then.

Hitto founded the Coalition of Free Syria activist group in 2011, and become a national board member of the Syrian American Council the following year.

A member of the Syrian National Coalition, the umbrella group representing a range of opposition organizations, Hitto heads its humanitarian assistance arm -- the Turkey-based Assistance Coordination Unit.

Coalition members described him as a “consensus candidate” in a divided vote. Respected by the Islamists within the opposition, he also had the approval of the liberals.

Supporters have praised his knack for building diplomatic ties that have been key to secure much-needed financial support for Syrians displaced by the conflict.