Lebanese opposition MP Walid Jumblatt.
(photo credit: AP)
A key leader of Lebanon's Western-backed parliamentary
majority says he is shifting his political allegiance toward a Hizbullah-led
coalition in a step likely to trigger a political realignment in the volatile
country and a further delay in the formation of a unity government.
But what is still unclear from comments made late Sunday by
Druse leader Walid Jumblatt is whether he will take the next step and pull his
Progressive Socialist Party out of the parliamentary majority led by Prime
Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
Hariri's coalition, of which Jumblatt has been a key leader,
won a general election in June, retaining a majority in the 128-seat parliament
after fending off a strong challenge from the Iranian-backed Hizbullah and its
A shrewd politician known for his shifting loyalties,
Jumblatt told party loyalists late Sunday that he had entered the alliance with
Hariri's Western-backed Sunni and Christian factions "out of necessity and must
He did not outright say he planned to pull his 11 lawmakers
out of the 71-seat majority in parliament, thus denying it the threshold to
govern without the opposition. But his comments drew swift criticism from the
alliance's main faction, the Future Movement.
Without naming Jumblatt, it said cryptically that it could
not criticize Jumblatt for shifting his loyalty but only so long as it did not
mean "going back to the shameful history in which many were partners in giving
priority to private interests over that of the country."
Recalling a landmark visit to Washington in 2006, Jumblatt
told his party loyalists Sunday that he regrets his meetings with
"neo-conservatives" then serving in the Bush administration, describing those
encounters as a "black spot" in his political career.
Jumblatt, 59, was the main force behind the creation of a
Western-backed alliance that led massive street protests to demand the
withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon following the 2005 assassination of
former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The Syrians, who pulled their army out of Lebanon in 2005,
deny any part in the killing.
A longtime leftist and a one-time close Syrian ally, Jumblatt
shifted after Hariri's assassination to the Western-backed camp after being a
main beneficiary of Syrian goodwill when Damascus had the final say in Lebanese
affairs for close to 30 years.
Since the 2005 break with Damascus, however, he became one of
the harshest critics of Syria in Lebanon, calling for the overthrow of President
Bashar Assad's regime and blaming Syria for the 1977 killing of his father,
prominent politician Kamal Jumblatt. He has also accused Syria of being behind
the assassination of Hariri and other politicians in Lebanon since 2005.
But Jumblatt has moderated his anti-Syrian rhetoric since
fighters from the Shiite Hizbullah stormed Beirut's Sunni Muslim neighborhoods
in May last year, taking control of vast swaths of the city with surprising
In his comments Sunday, he said he was returning to his
leftist roots and will seek "distinguished relations" with Syria.
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