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Lebanese MPs pick Najib Mikati as new prime minister

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Leading Lebanese businessman Najib Mikati secured enough votes in parliamentary consultations on Monday to be designated the next prime minister, raising hopes for an urgently needed viable government to tackle a crippling financial crisis.

Mikati, who has been prime minister twice before and unlike many Lebanese leaders does not hail from a political bloc or dynasty, received 72 votes out of a total of 118 members of parliament.

Like the previous nominee, Saad al-Hariri, he now faces major challenges in navigating Lebanon’s sectarian, power-sharing structure to secure agreement on a cabinet equipped to address the country’s financial meltdown.

While Lebanon has been run by a caretaker administration for nearly a year, since a huge blast devastated large parts of Beirut, its currency has collapsed, jobs have vanished and banks have frozen accounts. The economic freefall is Lebanon’s worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shi’ite Islamist movement that the United States deems a terrorist group, nominated Mikati in Monday’s consultations and most of the main parliamentary blocs endorsed the choice.

“Today, with signs that hint at the possibility of forming a government…, that’s why we named Mikati, to give an extra boost to facilitate forming a government,” Muhammad Raad, the leader of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, told reporters.

Among Mikati’s endorsers was Hariri, who abandoned his effort to form a new government last week after nearly 10 months of 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. “The country has a chance today,” he said.

The news of Mikati’s likely designation boosted the Lebanese pound on the unofficial parallel market earlier on Monday, 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, one of the most heavily indebted states in the world, to form a government that can set about reforming the corrupt state. They have threatened to impose sanctions and said financial support will not flow before reforms begin.

(REUTERS)

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