BEIRUT — “The presidential election may be delayed, but it will happen,” declared caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati Friday. He spoke on the sidelines of a meeting in Amman where he is attending a conference organized by the Politics and Society Institute.
Here’s what we know:
• Mikati’s statement comes amid fears of a political vacuum following May’s legislative elections, which resulted in a divided parliament whose members must form a government and elect a president before October 31, the end of president Michel Aoun’s mandate.
• “In light of the composition of the new Parliament, it’s difficult for any political camp to prevent the election,” Mikati said, adding that “the possibility of organizing elections is better than it seemed a few months ago.”
• The president is elected by MPs. Michel Aoun’s election was delayed by two years after a group of MPs boycotted sessions until political compromises were struck between the Aoun-founded Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces and Future Movement.
• Commenting on government formation, Mikati said he hopes “that Parliament will quickly decide on the person it deems appropriate” to form the new cabinet “without any political group imposing its conditions on the new prime minister.” Parliamentary consultations between groups of MPs and the president to name the new premier are expected next week.
• For months, Mikati has considered assuming another term as prime minister, according to L’Orient-Le Jour’s political columnist Mounir Rabih, which may explain his not running in last month’s parliamentary elections.
• “Lebanon is at a crossroads and it is impossible to continue following the same system,” Mikati added. The caretaker prime minister said he supported “using Taif [the 1989 accord marking the end of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War] as a basis and building on what follows from it,” affirming a willingness to deconfessionalize Lebanese politics, to pursue administrative decentralization and to adopt a new electoral law.
• Mikati called for the implementation of the preliminary accord struck with the International Monetary Fund, which would provide Lebanon with up to three billion dollars over four years, provided that the country adopts certain economic reforms.
• On the topic of Lebanon’s maritime border conflict with Israel, Mikati said that he is “committed to resolving the dispute via American negotiator Amos Hochstein,” who is expected to arrive in Beirut next week. Tensions were sparked when Israel dispatched a floating production, storage and offloading unit belonging to the London-listed power company Energean into the disputed exclusive economic zone between Israel and Lebanon, with the aim of commencing drilling operations in the Karish gas field on behalf of the Israeli state. “The top priority of all authorities,” Mikati continued, “is to protect the stability of the situation in Lebanon.”