Lebanon - Leadership

Lahoud is regarded as a capable and honest administrator. He enjoys broad public and parliamentary support. Perhaps more importantly, he is supported by Syria. Consequently, Lahoud can claim a firm mandate for implementing much-needed reforms, tackling the problems of widespread corruption and entrenched sectarianism that plague Lebanon's public administration. Lahoud is also expected to provide a stronger voice for the Maronite community, which has felt increasingly marginalized in the country's new political order. Several prominent Maronites have welcomed Lahoud's election. Others have dismissed him as Syria's Lebanese satrap. Clearly, Lahoud's ability to fulfill his mandate depends on his influence in the ruling troika and will be constrained by the need to consider the interests of the country's religious communities and Syria. Forming a new government presented Lahoud with his first leadership test.

In the previous government, Prime Minister Hariri was the dominant figure in the troika leadership, but was often at odds with Hrawi and Speaker Berri. These disputes, resolved only after Syrian mediation, underscored perceptions that the troika system created stalemates in leadership and hindered effective government. The troika's shortcomings may have helped strengthen Lahoud's hand and restored some of the presidency's old clout. Lahoud's cabinet choices suggest that he will exercise more influence in the new government than his predecessor. Hints of this shift were evident in the run-up to naming the cabinet when Lahoud and Hariri disagreed on the cabinet's composition. After consultations with assembly members, Lahoud reappointed Hariri as premier. Hariri refused the offer, even though a clear majority in the assembly backed his selection. Hariri accused the president of a constitutional breach, violating the Taif accord. He claimed that some assembly members had delegated Lahoud to choose the prime minister on their behalf, granting the president unconstitutional authority. Arguably, Hariri's decision may have been prompted by recognition of new limits on his influence. On 1 December 1998, Lahoud appointed Salim al-Hoss to be the new prime minister and head of a reformminded cabinet. But following the September 2000 parliamentary elections, Lahoud agreed to reappoint Hariri as prime minister.

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