Najib Mikati appointed as Lebanon's prime minister

The Sunni businessman has received the support of Hezbollah and the Future Movement
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REUTERS/STEPHANIE McGEHEE  -   Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati

Lebanon is back to square one, with no prime minister, no government and one of the worst economic crises of the 21st century. On 15 July, former prime minister-designate Saad Hariri resigned after being unable to reach an agreement with Lebanese President Michel Aoun to form a government. "It is obvious that we will not be able to reach an understanding, the president and I," said the Sunni leader after his meeting with Aoun.

Hariri's resignation means, once again, going through the consultation process to appoint a new prime minister. The name that has been strongly tipped to fill the post is that of Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman who has already served as prime minister on two previous occasions. Mikati has experience in politics, having served two previous terms as prime minister. First, during a three-month caretaker government in 2005, and then in a full-fledged government from April 2011 to February 2014.

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PHOTO/DALATI NOHRA/ via REUTERS - Lebanon's President Michel Aoun during a press conference at the presidential palace in Baabda.

Mikati was also Minister of Public Works and Transport in 1998 and heads the Azm Movement party, which is represented in parliament. The businessman, like most of the Lebanese political class, was accused of corruption in 2019 along with his brother and son for illicit gain through subsidised housing loans, but the family denied all charges and claimed that these accusations were politically motivated.

Eleven days after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri submitted his resignation, the consultation process convened by President Michel Aoun began early this morning at the presidential palace in Baabda. Aoun received the favourite candidate, Najib Mikati, followed by Hariri. After the meeting, the leader of the Future Movement and former prime minister expressed his support for Mikati. Hariri expressed his hope that a government headed by the Sunni businessman would be "formed as soon as possible".

Tammam Salam, Lebanon's prime minister from 2014 to 2016, has also shown his support for Najib Mikati by advocating the formation of a 'cabinet of specialists' capable of putting an end to the country's collapse. Both Hariri and Salam emphasised the need to respect constitutional procedures. Another prominent figure backing Mikati's candidacy was the deputy speaker of parliament, Elie Ferzli. Among the Sunni businessman's supporters is the Progressive Socialist Party, which has a Druze majority.

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PHOTO/AFP - Lebanese Hezbollah representative and MP Mohammed Raad (4th R) walks with other members of the group's parliamentary bloc at the Baabda presidential palace in east Beirut

Hezbollah's parliamentary group, which had declined to say which candidate it would support, finally announced at the Baabda Palace that it was backing Najib Mikati's appointment as Lebanon's new prime minister. "Today, with the emergence of indications of the possibility of forming a government, we have nominated Najib Mikati, which reflects the seriousness of our commitment to form a cabinet," Hezbollah leader Mohammad Raad said after his meeting with President Michel Aoun as part of binding parliamentary consultations.

The main stumbling block to the appointment of Najib Mikati as Lebanon's prime minister have been the Christian parties. The 15 MPs of the Lebanese Forces have already said they will not nominate a candidate, while the 31 MPs of the Free Patriotic Movement, the party led by President Michel Aoun, are reportedly opposed to Mikati, considering him too close to Hariri.

Despite the obstacles posed by the Christian parties, Mikati has been appointed as Lebanon's prime minister. He received the support of the parliamentary groups Future Movement, Hezbollah, the Progressive Socialist Party and finally the Lebanese Forces. In binding parliamentary consultations led by the Lebanese president, Najib Mikati finally received the support of 72 MPs out of 128, while 42 abstained from nominating him.

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PHOTO/DALATI NOHRA/ via REUTERS - Former Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri during a press conference announcing that he is stepping down from the cabinet formation

The country has been without a fully-fledged government for almost a year since interim Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned after the Beirut port explosion last August. The international community has repeatedly called on Lebanon to form a government committed to enacting structural reforms in order to unlock loans and development aid to restructure and recover its economy.

However, former prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, due to his multiple disagreements with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, has been unable to carry out the mission of forming a cabinet and it will be up to Najib Mikati to complete this difficult task at a time when Lebanon is suffering one of its biggest crises since the 1975-90 civil war.