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Tammam Salam builds consensus to be Lebanon’s new prime minister

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Tammam Salam, a former minister from a prominent Sunni Muslim political dynasty, emerged on Friday as a consensus candidate to take over as Lebanon’s prime minister.

The post has been vacant since March 22 when prime minister Najib Mikati announced his surprise resignation, in effect bringing down his Hezbollah-dominated government.

Parliamentary representatives were to begin submitting their nominations for the post to President Michel Sleiman on Friday afternoon, with Salam winning the endorsement of the opposition March 14 coalition and Walid Jumblatt, the veteran kingmaker who leads Lebanon’s Druze community.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Liberation and Development block is the latest to endorse Salam for the premiership.
Salam - a Sunni Muslim as all prime ministers must be under Lebanon’s faith-based distribution of power - is the son of a former prime minister. His grandfather served under the Ottoman Empire and the French colonial mandate.

The two-day nomination process aims to resolve the crisis sparked by Mikati’s resignation, which came as the conflict in neighboring Syria deepens tensions within Lebanon’s multi-confessional population.

Mikati led a government dominated by the so-called March 8 coalition, made up of Iran-allied Hezbollah and its partners, who back the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad against a now two-year-old revolt.

The opposition March 14 alliance backs the uprising, and despite an official Lebanese policy of “dissociation” from the conflict, both sides of the political spectrum have accused each other of interfering in the fighting.

The 128-seat Lebanese parliament includes 61 members from the Hezbollah-led coalition, with 60 seats held by the opposition.

Jumblatt, who holds seven seats, has charted a complex political path.

He is fiercely opposed to the Syrian regime, but has also stood by Hezbollah, opposing any attempt to disarm the group by force.

The opposition announced their support for Salam on Thursday evening, with former prime minister Fouad Siniora saying he was a “unanimous” choice because of his “national and moral engagement.”

“We wish Mr. Salam good luck in leading the country through the present circumstances,” Siniora told an opposition meeting in Beirut.

“It’s a great national responsibility... I thank my brothers in the March 14 coalition,” Salam said at the meeting.

Jumblatt’s endorsement followed shortly afterwards in an interview on Lebanese television.

“Salam is the voice of moderation... He’s never said a bad word against the resistance (Hezbollah),” he said, calling for a national unity government to include representatives from across the political spectrum.

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