Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shiite militant group, appears poised to take control of government in Lebanon and install the next prime minister, sparking angry street protests and fears that Lebanon might realign away from the U.S.
Meantime, supporters of the U.S.-backed caretaker prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, accused Hezbollah of carrying out a coup to put Lebanon's top office under Iranian control, and called for a protest "day of anger" on Tuesday.
Hezbollah plunged Lebanon into crisis by walking out of Hariri's unity government on Jan. 12 in a dispute over indictments by a U.N.-backed tribunal which is investigating the 2005 killing of Rafik al-Hariri, the prime minister's father.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Monday said that if the prime ministerial candidate backed by his group — Telecoms tycoon Najib Mikati — won majority support in the assembly, he would try to form "a partnership government."
Crucially, Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's 300,000-strong Druze community who commands a bloc of 11 lawmakers, has thrown his weight behind Hezbollah, which is also backed by Syria.
To form a new government, Hezbollah needed at least 65 of the 128 parliament members. Diplomats and politicians say they now have that number, though voting will not end until Tuesday.
Hariri, who effectively leads Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community, has insisted he will not join the new government. His supporters accused Hezbollah of carrying out a coup to put Lebanon's leadership under the control of the mullahs in Iran, and called for a protest "day of anger" on Tuesday.
"As for the coup that Hezbollah is carrying out, it is an attempt to put the office of prime minister under the control of Wilayat al Fakih [Iran's clerical authority]," he said in a statement, according to Reuters.
Hundreds of Hariri supporters blocked streets on Monday in Tripoli, a mainly Sunni Muslim city in north Lebanon, calling on Mikati to withdraw his nomination.
Others in western Bekaa blocked the main road between Lebanon and Syria and burned tires. Some streets in Beirut were also blocked.
“It will not be easy for them to control Lebanon alone,” Antoine Zahra, a Christian lawmaker allied with Hariri's block told The New York Times. “They will turn it into an isolated country, ostracized by the Arab world and the international community.”
He called Mikati’s victory “a constitutional coup.”
GlobalPost this week took to the streets of Beirut to ask ordinary Lebanese their views on events: