Beirut, Lebanon – Billionaire businessman Najib Mikati was appointed as Lebanon’s new prime minister-designate on Monday following binding parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun.
Mikati ran virtually unopposed, receiving 72 votes, with former ambassador Nawaf Salam receiving just one vote. Forty-two MPs voted blank, and three MPs did not vote at all.
His appointment comes just 11 days after Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister-designate, following nine months of political deadlock and dispute with President Aoun and his son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil.
“With the cooperation of the president, we will form a government according to the French initiative,” Mikati told the press after his appointment, referring to a road map of economic and structural reforms French President Emanuel Macron introduced to Lebanon in August 2020.
If Mikati successfully forms a government, this would be his third stint as Lebanon’s prime minister. He was briefly caretaker prime minister for several months in April 2005, and then headed a full-fledged government in 2011 for three years.
Lebanon’s economy continues to crumble with half the population living below the poverty line and a spiralling local currency that lost more than 90 percent of its value.
The country has been without a full-fledged government for almost one year and is struggling to reform its economy to unlock international aid.
The businessman from the northern city of Tripoli received votes from most of Lebanon’s major political parties, including the Future Movement led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Hezbollah and fellow Shia party the Amal Movement, as well as the Druze-led Progressive Socialist Party.
Senior Future Movement official Mustafa Allouch told Al Jazeera that Hariri and the Future Movement will continue to push for a non-partisan government of technocrats.
However, Mikati did not receive votes from Lebanon’s two largest Christian parties.
The Free Patriotic Movement, the largest Christian parliamentary bloc in Lebanon, decided not to name a candidate. MP Gebran Bassil who leads the party also said he did not vote for Mikati due to “a previous experience that was discouraging”.
However, Free Patriotic Movement MP Alain Aoun told Al Jazeera that he is more optimistic of a government formation with Mikati as prime minister-designate than previously with Saad Hariri, which resulted in a nine-month political gridlock.
Aoun said the party’s priority for the incoming government is “stopping the financial collapse” through a bailout agreement with the IMF, forensic audit, and other reforms.
Lebanese Forces MP Anis Nassar told Al Jazeera that they had initially opted to support Nawaf Salam as they did last year, but back then “there was still some hope and life in the system.”
They decided to not suggest anyone, expecting ongoing political paralysis and obstructions to forming a reformist government.
“We have decided that no one, no matter how decent, powerful, and influential the prime minister, within the political system and the ruling elite, he or she will not be able to do anything in this country,” Nassar told Al Jazeera.
United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka wished Mikati “success, speed, and support of all political parties” in swiftly forming a government. “There is no more time to lose,” Wronecka said in a tweet.
Third stint in power
Mikati has been an MP representing Tripoli, and the co-owner of multi-billion conglomerate the M1 Group. In late 2019, a Lebanese citizen brought charges against Mikati for illicit profiteering on state-subsidised housing loans.
He denies the allegations and says they were politically motivated.
Mark Daou, co-founder of opposition political party Taqaddom is not confident of a reformist government under Mikati.
“Recycling is good for the environment, not for politicians,” Daou told Al Jazeera. “This again is an act of a political regime maliciously intent on kicking the can forward without serious reform.”
In Lebanon’s political system, the post of prime minister has to be held by a Sunni Muslim, the presidency is held by a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of parliament is a Shia Muslim.