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A Lebanese billionaire and two-time former prime minister has garnered enough parliamentary support for the struggling country’s youngest prime minister, the third person in a year to try to form a government in Beirut.
A majority of lawmakers approved the appointment of Najib Mikati, a telecommunications maker, 11 days after his predecessor. Sa’ad Hariri abandoned efforts to form a new administration. Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government since the cabinet stepped down in August last year following the devastating port explosion in Beirut.
The international community has pushed Beirut to replace its oversight government with a fully empowered cabinet, capable of negotiating an IMF bailout and instituting much-needed reforms in the state and banking sectors. Hariri resigned after failing to reach an agreement with President Michel Aoun, and both blamed each other for failing to form a government.
Mikati warned on Monday that he had “no magic wand” and called for unity and the support of the Lebanese people.
The powerful paramilitary and political party Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was among the blocs to support Mikati, a sitting MP from Lebanon’s impoverished northern city of Tripoli.
Along with his brother Taha, also believed to be a billionaire, Mikati is co-founder of M1 Group, an extensive conglomerate that started as a Lebanese telecommunications company during the 1975 to 1990 civil war.
The fall of Lebanon’s freefall reversed its serious recent decline as rumors spread about Mikati’s direction and jumped from lows of 23,000 LBP to the dollar to 16,600 LBP on Monday morning.
But veteran politician Mikati, who previously served as prime minister in 2005 and 2011, is not a general choice. Youth mass demonstrations that erupted in October 2019 called for the dismissal of the political elite of Lebanon, who are accused of corruption and incompetence.
A state prosecutor has opened a case against Mikati following the protests on charges that he is unfairly benefiting from subsidized home loans. He denied any wrongdoing.
Despite the urgent need for a government that can work through reforms and negotiate a lifeline with the IMF, analysts have said the government is unlikely to be formed before next year’s parliamentary elections.
Lebanon is suffering from the worst peacetime economic crisis and is subject to power outages and widespread shortages of fuel and medicine. The country is in the grip of hyperinflation with state institutions such as the military warning that they are on the verge of collapse. Other countries have said they are not prepared to provide aid to the Mediterranean nation of about 7 million people unless corruption and wasteful public spending are curtailed.
France has led the international community in its calls for the formation of a new government in Lebanon, previously under a French mandate. EU foreign ministers this month agreed to seek sanctions against those responsible for the delay in forming the cabinet.