Lebanon’s PM Najib Mikati resigns amid political deadlock

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during a news conference at the Grand Serail, the government headquarters in Beirut, March 22, 2013. (Reuters)

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced his resignation on Friday after Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies blocked the extension of Internal Security Forces chief’s term in office and the creation of a body to supervise parliamentary elections.

“I announce the resignation of the government, hoping that this will open the way for the major political blocs to take responsibility and come together to bring Lebanon out of the unknown,” Mikati said.

The government held off agreeing on the membership of the election commission over fears it would ensure that elections scheduled for June are held on the basis of a decades-old electoral law.

Mikati, along with the leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, Walid Jumblatt, is said to favor the existing law.

It gives his Sunni community and the Druze disproportionate strength in the parliament, but is vehemently opposed by Lebanon’s Christians, who say it fails to give them representative weight.

Attempts earlier this year to approve an alternative election law failed, and both Mikati and President Michel Sleiman have called for election preparations to move forward so the vote can be held on time.

Mikati was appointed premier in 2011 after the Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies brought down the unity government of Saad al-Hariri.

In an interview earlier this year with Al Arabiya English’s editor-in-chief Faisal Abbas, Mikati said he took the premier post to defuse tensions between rival political factions in Lebanon, a goal “I can humbly claim that I have achieved,” he said.

“Today, with the deterioration in the Syrian situation and the political crisis prevailing, any miscalculated exit might lead to another political crisis,” Mikati added in the interview.

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During his two years in office Mikati sought to insulate his country from the civil war in neighboring Syria which deepened Lebanon’s own sectarian tensions and led to street battles in the northern city of Tripoli.

But Hezbollah’s continued support for the Syrian regime and its atrocities has undermined Mikati’s “disassociation” policy and eroded his popularity at home.

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Qassim Qassir, a Lebanese Journalist and political analyst, said Mikati resigned in a bid to win back his lost popularity in his hometown Tripoli.

Al-Nahar columnist Ali Hamada told Al Arabiya television that the resignation of Mikati would exacerbate the state of political imbalances in the country and is likely to worsen tensions between Hezbollah and its rivals.

Future Movement official and former MP Moustafa Allouch said Mikati’s resignation “came very late and will not change much in the country’s political dynamics.”
Allouch said Mikati has long sought “a way out because Hezbollah’s camp is weak.”

“His resignation will not undo the destruction caused by his government, which is led by Syria’s ally Hezbollah,” he said, adding that the Shiite movement has to distance itself from the violence in Syria in order for the country to focus on itself.

Asaad Bishara, a political writer and journalist, said Mikati resigned after he was “abandoned by Hezbollah and his allies.”
Al Arabiya correspondent in Lebanon said protesters in Tripoli have cut off the main entrance into the city. Future Movement MP Ahmed Fatfat told Al Arabiya that the country’s now has “entered a dangerous stage.”

But former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the government’s resignation provides an opportunity for national dialogue in Lebanon.

Last Update: Saturday, 23 March 2013 KSA 10:01 - GMT 07:01