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Government Formation

New PM Mikati begins bid to form long-awaited cabinet

Newly designated Premier Najib Mikati meets with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and President Michel Aoun on July 26. (Credit: Dalati & Nohra)

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s new prime minister–designate, Najib Mikati, started consultations with leading political parties on Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.

The billionaire politician, already twice a prime minister, was designated on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.

The government of Hassan Diab resigned following a deadly port explosion in Beirut in August, and efforts to agree on a new lineup have proved fruitless.

The institutional vacuum is holding up a potential financial rescue plan for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as likely one of the world’s worst crises since the mid-19th century.

The designation of 65-year-old Mikati, Lebanon’s richest man and to many a symbol of its corrupt oligarchy, was met with general skepticism.

A native of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of its poorest, he was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment, a charge he denies.

Skepticism

“How can I trust a thief who stole from me and my children and their future?” 57-year-old Beirut resident Mohammed Deeb asked after Mikati’s designation.

“As long as this [political] class is still in power, nothing will change.”

On Monday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside Mikati’s Beirut home, accusing him of corruption and cronyism.

Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, France, and other Western governments stopped short of welcoming Mikati’s designation and simply urged him to swiftly deliver a competent lineup.

But Lebanon’s bickering politicians view Mikati as a consensus candidate who may be capable of easing a political deadlock that has stymied efforts toward forming a government.

Mikati, the third politician in a year to attempt the job, promised his government would work on implementing a French road map conditioning a huge aid package on reform and transparency.

Tuesday’s meetings with the parliamentary blocs are the customary official step that follows a new prime minister’s designation, but the high-stakes horse-trading has yet to begin.

If he succeeds where Hariri failed for almost nine months and forms a government, Mikati will be expected to steer the country to parliamentary polls due next year.

In an interview with the newspaper Annahar, Mikati vowed his lineup would be “purely technical” and tasked with bridging the gap to the elections.

Electricity crisis

In some of his first comments after his designation, Mikati addressed the shortages that have plunged the country into darkness and further crippled its crumbling economy.

Lebanon can no longer provide electricity to its citizens for more than a handful of hours a day, nor can it afford to buy the diesel needed to power private generators.

Almost none of the international community’s demands for a broad program of reforms have so far been met.

Further stalling the bankrupt state’s recapitalization has been the government’s failure to engage the International Monetary Fund and discuss a fully fledged rescue plan.

Until then, the monetary institution is due to send about $900 million as part of its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) aid financing scheme to help Lebanon recover.

Experts have warned, however, that the amount would not be enough and risked being misused by a ruling class that offers no more guarantees of transparency than before.

According to the newspaper Al-Akhbar, Mikati wants to use the IMF money to build new plants aimed at stabilizing Lebanon’s power supply.



BEIRUT — Lebanon’s new prime minister–designate, Najib Mikati, started consultations with leading political parties on Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.

The billionaire politician, already twice a prime minister, was designated on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.

The government of...