Najib Mikati secures enough votes to be Lebanon's new PM-designate
Najib Mikati, the billionaire businessman from Tripoli and current outgoing Prime Minister, secured enough votes to become Lebanon's new PM-designate on Thursday – the fourth time he would head a government.
Mikati received at least 50 of votes from Lebanon’s parliament. The Lebanese Forces, a Maronite Christian political party and former civil war militia, cast blank ballots but refused to nominate an alternative to Mikati for PM.
Nawaf Salam, a former judge on the International Court of Justice, competed with Mikati for the PM spot, but did not receive enough votes for his nomination. Most of his votes came from Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and anti-establishment candidates.
The new PM-designate is tasked with forming a new government for Lebanon. This process can be lengthy, as Lebanon's various political blocs fiercely haggle over cabinet members and ministerial posts.
Following the resignation of Lebanon's then-government over the Beirut port explosion which killed over 250 people, Lebanon spent 13 months in the government formation phase.
Mikati is largely viewed as a compromise figure in the Lebanese political establishment, supported by Iran-backed Hezbollah and Saudi-backed former Future Movement MPs and allies. Independent candidates have hammered the businessman for his inaction during Lebanon's financial crisis and previous lawsuits against him for "illicit gains".
The new government under Mikati's leadership will have to forge Lebanon's path out of its economic crisis. Its first task will be negotiating a $US3 billion bailout with the IMF, viewed as the first step to restoring economic stability to Lebanon.
Donor countries have pledged billions in aid to Lebanon, notably during the 2018 CEDRE conference. Aid will not be given, however, until Lebanon makes necessary economic and political reforms.
Lebanon has made little progress towards said reforms over the past year, with the exception of a draft for a capital control law, which was scrapped after a popular outcry.
The new government will have a stronger popular mandate, necessary to implement reforms which some economists have said will be painful.
The previous government, also under Mikati's tenure, was largely marked by inaction. Lebanese standards' of living deteriorated as the economic crisis worsened and subsidies on basic goods were lifted. As a result, over two-thirds of Lebanese have been thrust into poverty.
Promises to achieve accountability in the Beirut port blast case went unfulfilled. Various political blocs, namely Hezbollah and its ally the Amal movement, stalled the government until the investigative judge leading the case was removed.
Suspects wanted for questioning, several of them high-ranking officials, were allowed to evade their arrest warrants with no consequences.
Unlike previous governments, the upcoming one has a large number of independents in the parliament. The independent bloc, despite being broadly anti-establishment, does not have a unified political platform, so it remains unclear how its presence will affect policy.