Lebanon hopeful over new president

Politicians from opposing factions praise new president - former army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman.

Suleiman Beirut 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Suleiman Beirut 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanese politicians from opposing factions praised Lebanon's new president - former army chief General Michel Suleiman, who was elected Sunday - as someone who can unite the country and help it heal after internecine violence drew it near to the edge of civil war. Many politicians believe Suleiman's election as president - a position left vacant for six months - is an important step in getting the country back on track and allowing it to tackle pressing internal problems unattended during an 18-month political crisis. "I think he is the man that we need now because there is a consensus on his name," one Lebanese politician told The Jerusalem Post. "We have a lot of parties in Lebanon that say he is closer to the opposition than to the majority, or vice versa. I don't think so. I think he is really the same distance from both." A second politician from an opposing camp agreed on Suleiman's credentials, saying that he has already proven himself as an army commander who is both patriotic and highly moral. When Hizbullah took over swaths of west Beirut earlier this month, Suleiman's army stood by and did not intervene, arguing that such a move would have divided the diverse Lebanese army along sectarian and religious lines. "He has distinguished himself... by preserving Lebanese national unity by maintaining the unity of the security establishment," the second politician said. In addition to agreeing on consensus candidate Suleiman, the Doha Agreement signed last week in Qatar granted Hizbullah and its allies veto power in the country's new national unity government, where the opposition will get 11 cabinet seats when it previously had six. Obtaining veto power was the key Hizbullah demand that triggered the country's recent crisis. The two sides also agreed on an electoral law that divides the country into smaller-sized political districts that will influence the outcome of the next parliamentary elections in 2009. But many challenges still lie ahead. "Internal unity" must be made a priority and points of disagreement between factions must be resolved, the second politician said, because "there are situations other than politics that must be addressed - like the social and economic problems of the Lebanese people." In addition, he added, the international community must help Lebanon "get back" the Shaba Farms from Israel - which Israel captured at the same time it captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six Day War - and release Lebanese prisoners who are detained in Israel. "We are waiting for this help because the solution to this problem would contribute to calming the internal Lebanese situation," he said. "It's a fundamental problem." But some politicians expressed concern that despite the Doha agreement, political assassinations - perhaps plotted by foreign countries - are still a real threat in the country. "We are all worried," the first politician said. "I don't think that it was only for interior reasons that we have had assassinations - like [former Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri, and members of parliament, and journalists. That's why we are waiting for the [United Nations] international tribunal and the international inquiry committee to draw their conclusions." But he also expressed hope that internal violence like the kind that took place earlier this month when Hizbullah seized parts of Beirut would no longer happen in Lebanon. "Qatar was very strong and all the Arab countries [very strongly] said it's completely unacceptable from now on to use arms for political aims in Lebanon," he said, referring to the Doha agreement. If such a scenario happened again, he believes, Arab forces would "come and help protect the country and help the Lebanese army take control." AP contributed to this report.