Tamam Salam emerges as consensus candidate for Lebanon PM position

Saudi Arabia gives regional dimension for appointment

Tamam Salam of the Western-backed opposition is to be named Lebanon's prime minister Saturday, two weeks after Najib Mikati resigned and effectively brought down his Hezbollah-dominated government.
Salam, 67, emerged as a consensus candidate after regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia backed his nomination, helping to ease a political crisis that has gripped Lebanon ever since a conflict in neighbouring Syria erupted two years ago.
Lebanese television showed supporters gathering at Salam's Beirut home to congratulate him on Saturday morning after he won endorsements from across the political spectrum, including the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, the March 14 opposition grouping and veteran kingmaker Walid Jumblatt.
Talks over Salam's appointment, which were initiated by President Michel Sleiman, ran into a second day, after at least 109 out of 128 MPs backed his candidacy.
The appointment is expected to be announced at about 2:00 pm (1100 GMT), with Sleiman tasking him with forming a government.
That is likely to prove difficult in a country deeply divided between those who support and oppose President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, which dominated Lebanon politically and militarily for 30 years until 2005.
Since then, the eastern Mediterranean country has suffered multiple political conflicts and crises, which have been exacerbated by the Syrian civil war.
No prime minister has won such broad consensus since the Syrian pullout, in a clear sign of agreement among political rivals over the urgent need to fill the vacuum created by the fall of Mikati's government.
Mikati's government had adopted a policy of "disassociation" in Syria's war, though the violence has spilled over into fragile Lebanon.
Despite pulling out of Lebanon, Assad's regime has continued through its allies to play a key role in the country's politics.
But as Syria reels in war, Riyadh appears to be playing a growing role in Lebanese politics.
After Mikati's resignation, the Saudi authorities held meetings in Riyadh with leading Lebanese politicians, including Druze leader Jumblatt.
In an editorial, pro-Damascus Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar accused Riyadh of pushing Salam's nomination as a "counter-coup" against it and its ally Hezbollah.
"Riyadh is contemplating returning to Lebanon though a counter-coup," said Al-Akhbar, referring to a 2011 "coup" by Hezbollah against former prime minister Saad Hariri's March 14 government.
Pro-opposition newspaper An-Nahar also described Riyadh's role as a Saudi "coup".
While there is consensus on Salam's candidacy, one key issue remains unresolved. Hezbollah and its allies say he should form a national unity government, but it is unclear if March 14 would accept this.
Hanging over the process is the question of whether elections will go ahead as scheduled in June, amid broad opposition to the electoral law currently on the books.
Salam, a Sunni Muslim as tradition dictates for Lebanon's prime ministers, is the son of Saib Salam, who served six terms as premier between 1952 and 1973.
He was first elected a Beirut MP in 1996, and re-elected in 2009. A graduate of economics and management in England and married with three children, he was culture minister between 2008 and 2009.