Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said that he will not seek re-election in a parliamentary election scheduled for May 15.
The statement, made in a television address on Monday, throws Sunni Muslim politics in Lebanon into deeper disarray, two months from a vote seen as important for reinvigorating public life in Lebanon in the third year of a financial crisis.
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The vote will also be the first since a nationwide popular uprising in late 2019 sought to change the government’s status quo. It also comes after the August 2020 Beirut port blast, which killed more than 200 people and flattened several neighbourhoods in the heart of the capital.
Mikati pledged to continue work to pull Lebanon out of its crippling economic crisis that has left more than 75 percent of the country’s six million people, including one million Syrian refugees, in poverty.
His statement follows an announcement by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in January that he would withdraw from politics and that his Future Movement, which now has some 20 members of parliament, would not field candidates.
Hariri is the top Sunni politician in a country where a power-sharing agreement dictates the prime minister must always be Sunni, the president a Maronite Christian, and the parliament speaker a Shia Muslim.
Another Sunni Muslim politician, former prime minister Tammam Salam, also said he would not run for parliament.
Analysts have said there is a political “void” for the Sunni community, which represents about one-third of the population.
All seats in Lebanon’s 128-member legislature are also allocated by religious sect, with 27 seats set aside for Sunnis – most of which are now up for grabs.
While announcing that he would not run, Mikati called on the Lebanese to turn out to vote, and said his move aimed to “provide room for the new generation”.
Hariri’s withdrawal from politics followed years of strained relations with former regional backer Saudi Arabia over what the Gulf Arab kingdom perceived as his weakness in the face of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which has growing influence in the country.
His decision had raised concerns about a potential boycott of the vote by Sunnis that could undermine the electoral process, though several other Sunni candidates are still in the running.