Billionaire businessman named premier-designate in Lebanon

A billionaire businessman and the former prime minister has been appointed as the next premier-designate on Monday by the president of Lebanon, after Saad Hariri earlier this month gave up attempts to form a Cabinet amid an unprecedented financial meltdown roiling the country.

According to report, Najib Mikati’s appointment came after he secured the majority of lawmakers’ votes in binding consultations President Michel Aoun held with members of parliament.

One of the richest men in Lebanon, Mikati became a favourite for the post after he was endorsed by most of Lebanon’s political parties including the powerful, Iran-backed militant Hezbollah group and the other major Shiite party, Amal, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Mikati was also endorsed by former Sunni prime ministers including Hariri, who abandoned efforts to form a government after failing to agree with Aoun on the cabinet’s makeup.

The political deadlock, driven by a power struggle between Aoun and Hariri over constitutional rights and powers of the president and prime minister, has worsened a crippling economic and financial crisis.

It is not clear whether Mikati – widely considered an extension of the political class that brought the country to bankruptcy – would be able to break the year-long impasse over the formation of a new government. He faces Christian opposition, including from Aoun’s own bloc, now led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, which did not name anyone as a candidate for prime minister.

Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis began in late 2019 and has steadily worsened since then. Poverty has soared in the past several months as the situation spirals out of control, with dire shortages of medicines, fuel and electricity. The currency has lost around 90 per cent of its value to the dollar, driving hyperinflation.

Mikati’s designation would be the third so far since the current caretaker government headed by Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last August. Since then, Diab’s cabinet has acted only in a caretaker capacity, compounding Lebanon’s paralysis further.

The first to try to form a government was Lebanon’s former ambassador to Germany, Mustafa Adib, who resigned last September, nearly a month after being designated prime minister. Mr. Hariri was appointed next and stepped down after 10 months.

Mikati, a Sunni billionaire from the northern city of Tripoli, served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2013, when he resigned at the height of the Syrian war after a two-year stint in a government dominated by Hezbollah and its allies.

He founded the telecommunications company Investcom with his brother Taha in the 1980s and sold it in 2006 to South Africa’s MTN Group for US$5.5-billion.

Mikati is supported by France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, and also the United States. (With inputs from PTI)

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