BEIRUT — Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is sticking to his choice. Following his announcement two weeks ago, he reiterated on Sunday evening his support for Sleiman Frangieh's candidacy for the Lebanese presidency, suggesting that the leader of the Marada Movement and Hezbollah's preferred candidate in the presidential election could even be supported by Sunni MPs.
Mikati also assured — in a lengthy interview on LBCI — that he was ready to convene the cabinet, invoking the constitution. Many of the caretaker premier's critics accuse him of wanting to assume the president's prerogatives despite the fact that he leads a government that assumed caretaker status following parliamentary elections last May and should therefore only tend to the day-to-day affairs of running the country.
At the seven parliamentary sessions so far devoted to the presidential election, Lebanese MPs have failed to elect a new head of state to succeed Michel Aoun, who left office on Oct. 31. Frangieh's name has appeared at these sessions only once — on a ballot cast during the sixth session.
An 'referee' between the Lebanese
During his Sunday interview, Mikati said, "Sleiman Frangieh is a political figure who is fully aware of Lebanon's history, who can act as a referee between the Lebanese, and I hope he will accede to the presidency of the republic."
"When [Frangieh's] candidacy becomes serious, the Sunni MPs will take a position that serves the national interest," Mikati added, suggesting that Sunni MPs will follow his own position and eventually vote for the Marada leader.
"Berri and Frangieh can form a winning duo. Frangieh has this capacity to open up to the Arab world, and he can solve all the problems," Mikati continued, referring to the good relations between the candidate and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is also head of the Amal Movement and an ally of Hezbollah.
'With all due respect to Aoun...'
While some — including Aoun's camp — criticize Mikati for wanting to arrogate to himself the prerogatives and competencies of the president, the caretaker prime minister stressed that "it is the cabinet that occupies today the place of the president, not Najib Mikati."
"The Constitution allows me to convene meetings of the Cabinet, and I will do so. Let everyone take their responsibilities," the head of the caretaker government said, adding that "Parliament has ruled that the government can continue to carry out current affairs."
Referring to the catastrophic economic situation in Lebanon, Mikati assured that foodstuffs will be exempted from the new customs dollar rate, which is due to rise from LL1,507.5 to LL15,000 on Dec. 1.
"I will ask the security services to monitor the application of the customs dollar and not to sell foodstuffs that were previously stocked [i.e. before the rate change] at the new prices," Mikati promised.
The application of the revised customs dollar rate raises fears of increased inflation, in a country where prices have already exploded since 2019.