Najib Mikati appointed to form a new government

Its roadmap is clear: launch reforms to get Lebanon out of an unprecedented socio-economic crisis. Najib Mikati, businessman and former prime minister, was tasked with forming a new government by Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday July 26.

His appointment comes after the recusal on July 15 of Saad Hariri, after nine months of a standoff with Mr. Aoun over the formation of a government. Before him, Moustapha Adib, appointed after the explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020, had also failed to form a government due to the haggling.

After meeting with Mr. Aoun, Najib Mikati told reporters he was aware of the task ” hard “ which falls to him. “But if I had not had the necessary external guarantees (…), I would not have assumed “ this responsibility, he declared in allusion to the foreign powers implicated in the Lebanese file. In contrast, “I need the trust of the people. (…) Alone, I will not be able to do miracles ”, he continued, calling for the collaboration of all political parties.

During binding parliamentary consultations led by President Michel Aoun, Mr Mikati, 65, received the support of 72 parliamentarians, while 42 deputies refrained from appointing him. Mr. Hariri and his parliamentary group approved the appointment of Mr. Mikati, who also received the backing of the armed Shiite movement Hezbollah, an ally of Mr. Aoun and a major political force in the country. In the Lebanese political system, the post of prime minister must be held by a Sunni Muslim, while the presidency is held by a Maronite Christian.

In our archives: the portrait of Najib Mikati

The political stalemate drags on

Since the resignation of Hassan Diab in August 2020, after the gigantic explosion at the port which left more than 200 dead and devastated neighborhoods of the capital, the political impasse has dragged on, against a background of political haggling, preventing training a government demanded by the international community to carry out reforms intended to unblock aid for Lebanon.

Najib Mikati has already chaired two cabinets in 2005 and 2011. He said he wanted to propose a list of ministers within a month. This must be accepted by the great tenors of the ruling class, unchanged for decades and accused of corruption, incompetence, by a large part of the population.

However, forming a government may take months yet, as the country is in the throes of a crisis ranked among the worst in the world since 1850 by the World Bank. “Nothing guarantees that the elements necessary for the formation of a government are met”Al-Akhbar daily noted, citing challenges relating to the distribution of posts and portfolios.

Symbol of corruption

According to the magazine Forbes, Najib Mikati has a fortune estimated at 2.7 billion dollars, or 2.3 billion euros. He is seen in his country as one of the symbols of a power accused of nepotism and having survived an unprecedented popular uprising at the end of 2019. Suspected in 2019 of illicit enrichment, Mr. Mikati has a low popularity rating , including in his hometown of Tripoli (north). On Sunday evening, dozens of people demonstrated outside his Beirut residence, accusing him of corruption and nepotism.

But party leaders see him as a consensual candidate capable of unblocking the blockage that has hitherto hindered the formation of a credible government, capable of unlocking crucial international aid.

The international community, led by France, pledged to support billions of dollars in aid, conditional on the establishment of a government capable of fighting corruption. Despite threats of sanction by the European Union against the Lebanese leaders, no progress has been made.

At his press conference, Mikati pledged a cabinet in line with “People’s expectations” with the main task of “Implement the French initiative” by Emmanuel Macron. The French president proposed in September 2020, during his visit to Lebanon, a roadmap comprising economic reforms in return for crucial international aid.

Lebanon, ruled for nearly a year by a nominated interim administration after the huge deadly explosion that devastated the port of Beirut on August 4, is facing a currency collapse, an explosion in unemployment and a freezing of bank accounts, the economy of the country – one of the most indebted in the world – undergoing its deepest crisis since the civil war of 1975-1990.

France announced a new international aid conference in Lebanon on August 4, to meet the needs of the Lebanese ”. It will coincide with the first anniversary of the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut, blamed on the negligence of the authorities.

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Le Monde with AFP and Reuters