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Lebanon picks billionaire Najib Mikati to form new govt

July 27, 2021

Beirut: Lebanese lawmakers on Monday tasked ex-premier and billionaire Najib Mikati with forming a government and ending one year of political deadlock that has crippled the economy.

A new government would face the daunting task of trying to steer Lebanon out of what the World Bank says is one of the world’s worst financial crises in more than 150 years, and to polls due to take place next year.

Mikati, a 65-year-old telecommunications mogul seen by some as a symbol of Lebanon’s corrupt oligarchy, called his designation a "difficult step" and urged the Lebanese people to support him.

"I don’t have a magic wand and, alone, I can’t make miracles happen," he said. Mikati will pick up where his predecessor Saad Hariri left off earlier this month when he quit after failing to broker a deal despite intense international pressure.

He clinched more than 72 endorsements, the official National News Agency said, including from the powerful Hezbollah movement. One MP voted in favour of veteran diplomat Nawaf Salam, while 42 others, including from President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, abstained from endorsing any candidate.

It could take months before an actual government is formed, but crisis-hit Lebanon, grappling with soaring poverty, a plummeting currency and shortages of basic items from medicine to fuel, can ill afford any delays.

Mikati was last in power in 2014 and is the third PM-designate to be named since the caretaker government of Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of last August’s monster blast at the Beirut port.

He will now have to start consultations with Aoun and political factions to set a cabinet line-up, while Diab stays on in a caretaker capacity. Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Aoun, the new PM-designate said: "If I didn’t have the necessary guarantees from external powers... I would not have taken on" the job.