BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanese businessman Najib Mikati secured enough votes in parliamentary consultations on Monday to be designated the next prime minister, and now faces the difficult challenge of forming a viable government to tackle a financial crisis.
Mikati has been prime minister twice before and, unlike many Lebanese leaders, does not represent a political bloc or hail from a dynasty. He received 72 votes out of a total of 118 members of parliament. [L1N2P20XW]
Like previous nominee Saad al-Hariri, he must navigate the sectarian, power-sharing structure and secure agreement on a cabinet equipped to address the financial meltdown in Lebanon, one of the world’s most heavily indebted states.
“I don’t have a magic wand and I can’t work miracles,” Mikati said after his nomination, but added that he had been studying the situation and had “the necessary international guarantees”.
Mikati is the third person to be nominated since Hassan Diab’s government resigned after an explosion at Beirut’s port area on Aug. 4 last year that killed more than 200 people and flattened large areas of the city.
Diab’s government has stayed on in a caretaker capacity since then, but Lebanon’s currency has collapsed, jobs have vanished and banks have frozen accounts in the country’s worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
Mikati said he was confident he could form a government, and its first priority would be to implement a reform plan by former colonial power France.
The French roadmap envisioned a government of specialists capable of implementing reforms and engaging the International Monetary Fund.
LEBANON ‘HAS A CHANCE TODAY’
Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shi’ite Islamist movement that the United States deems a terrorist group, nominated Mikati in Monday’s consultations. Most of the main parliamentary blocs endorsed the choice.
Muhammad Raad, the leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, told reporters there were signs hinting at the possibility of forming a government and “that’s why we named Mikati, to give an extra boost to facilitate forming a government.”
Hezbollah is an ally of President Michel Aoun.
Among Mikati’s endorsers was Hariri who, after nearly 10 months, abandoned efforts to form a government last week after failing to agree its composition with Aoun.
Hariri told reporters after meeting Aoun that he hoped Mikati, a telecoms tycoon, would be chosen and succeed in forming a cabinet, adding: “The country has a chance today.”
The news of Mikati’s likely designation boosted the Lebanese pound earlier on Monday on the unofficial parallel market, where dollars changed hands at around 16,500 pounds, compared to over 22,000 at the height of the deadlock over the government.
In Lebanon’s political system, the post of prime minister has to be held by a Sunni Muslim, while the presidency is held by a Maronite Christian.
Western governments have been piling pressure on Lebanon to form a government that can set about reforming the corruption-marred state. They have threatened to impose sanctions and said financial support will not flow before reforms begin.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maha al Dahan; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Toby Chopra and Timothy Heritage)