By Lin Noueihed  BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s prime minister formed a new government on Tuesday, boosting chances that a general election can be held on time in line with demands by the international community and anti-Syrian opposition.  In a key concession to the opposition after seven weeks of deadlock, Najib Mikati, a wealthy businessman with close ties to Lebanon’s long-time political master Syria, said he would immediately seek the removal of pro-Syrian security chiefs. Comprising largely businessmen and technocrats, Mikati’s 14-member cabinet must now win a confidence vote in parliament and draft and steer through the assembly an electoral law, all within 10 days, if the polls are to be held by the end of May.

Mikati immediately vowed to try to meet the deadline.

“This government will … begin shaping the future in this short period,” Mikati told reporters after meeting the president and speaker of parliament. “The government will hold parliamentary elections in the fastest possible time and, God willing, within the constitutional period.”

None of the ministers will run in the election, threatened with delay after the Feb. 14 killing of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri threw Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Mikati, a telecommunications tycoon and personal friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was appointed last week after winning the surprise support of opposition lawmakers.

Lebanon had been without a cabinet since his predecessor, Omar Karami, resigned on Feb. 28 in the face of street protests over the killing. Karami, a staunch pro-Syrian, was reappointed but quit again after failing to form a government.

Opposition figures cautiously welcomed the small cabinet — the 14 ministers are replacing 30 — though some reserved judgment until after it declares its program.

Maronite Christian Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, a figurehead of opposition to Syrian influence, welcomed the line-up, which includes several newcomers from outside politics.


Mikati secured the support of the opposition with his pledge to seek the removal of the security chiefs, one of their key demands alongside an end to Syria’s 29-year military presence and an international probe into the bombing that killed Hariri.

“I demanded the resignation of the security chiefs when I was (just) Najib Mikati. Now I’m prime minister and I will relay my point of view to the cabinet … and I promise that it will agree with me,” Mikati told reporters.

A United Nations fact-finding mission into Hariri’s killing had reported that international investigators would probably not be able to do their job if the security chiefs stayed in power.

In a sign that Mikati is serious about holding timely polls and cooperating with investigators, he named retired security official Hassan al-Sabaa, a moderate, as interior minister and respected judge Khaled Qabbani to head the Justice Ministry.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud, who retained his portfolio, promised to cooperate fully with the Hariri probe.

The opposition wants swift polls to capitalize on public sympathy after Hariri’s assassination. Loyalists want elections delayed, hoping cracks in the opposition would begin to show and the pro-Syrian loyalists would do better.


According to Lebanese law, an election must be called at least a month before they are due to start.

Parliament’s term expires on May 31, so the election must be called soon if the first round is to be held before then.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations have led international calls for timely elections and on Syria to withdraw its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon.

Syria has withdrawn most of its forces, in line with a Security Council resolution, and promised to be out by April 30.

Witnesses said at least 100 Syrian military trucks crossed the border into Syria overnight, leaving fewer than 1,500 troops in Lebanon. Syrian military police also left the border area.