The new Lebanese Prime Minister-designate, Najib Mikati, was due to start consultations with the main political parties on Tuesday with a view to forming a long-awaited government.
The billionaire politician, already twice prime minister, was appointed on Monday, days after Saad Hariri threw in the towel.
Hassan Diab’s government resigned following a deadly explosion in the port of Beirut last August and efforts to agree on a new range have proved unsuccessful.
The institutional vacuum blocks a potential financial bailout for Lebanon, which defaulted on its debt last year and has since sunk into what the World Bank has described as one of the worst global crises since the mid-19th century century.
The designation of Mikati, 65, the richest man in Lebanon and for many a symbol of its corrupt oligarchy, has sparked general skepticism.
Originally from Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city and one of the poorest, he was accused by a public prosecutor in 2019 of illicit enrichment, a charge he denies.
– Skepticism –
“How can I trust a thief who has robbed me and my children and their future?” Mohammed Deeb, 57, from Beirut, asked after Mikati’s appointment.
“As long as this (political) class is still in power, nothing will change.”
On Monday evening, dozens of protesters gathered outside Mikati’s home in Beirut, accusing him of corruption and cronyism.
The former colonial ruler of Lebanon, France, and other Western governments, refrained from welcoming Mikati’s designation and simply urged him to deliver a competent lineup quickly.
But Lebanese political wrangling sees Mikati as a consensual candidate, who may be able to break through a political impasse that has hampered efforts to form a government.
Mikati, the third politician in a year to attempt the job, pledged his government would work to implement a French roadmap conditioning a huge reform and transparency aid program.
Tuesday’s meetings with parliamentary blocs are the usual official step following the appointment of a new prime minister, but the high-stakes bargaining has yet to begin.
If he succeeds where Hariri failed for 10 months and forms a government, Mikati will have to lead the country to the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.
In an interview with the An-Nahar newspaper, Mikati vowed that its composition would be “purely technical” and responsible for bridging the gap until the election.
– Electric crisis –
In some of her first comments after her appointment, Mikati addressed the shortages that have plunged the country into darkness and further crippled its crumbling economy.
# photo1 Lebanon can no longer provide grid electricity to its citizens for more than a handful of hours a day, nor can it afford to buy the fuel needed to power the generators.
Almost none of the international community’s demands for a broad reform agenda has so far been met.
The government’s failure to engage the International Monetary Fund and discuss a full-fledged bailout has further hampered the bankrupt state’s recapitalization.
By then, the monetary institution is expected to send around $ 900 million under its Special Drawing Rights (SDR) aid funding program to help Lebanon recover.
Experts warned, however, that the amount would not be sufficient and risked being embezzled by a ruling class that does not offer more guarantees of transparency than before.
According to Al-Akhbar newspaper, Mikati wants to use IMF money to build new power plants aimed at stabilizing Lebanon’s power supply.
© 2021 AFP