Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Is Najib Mikati. What Happens Now?
Mikati, a billionaire businessman who currently is serving as caretaker prime minister, has held the position on three previous occasions
Lebanese President Michel Aoun began consultations on Thursday with representatives of the Lebanese Parliament to determine who will be the country’s next prime minister.
In the voting that followed, Najib Mikati, who has been serving as caretaker prime minister since elections were held last month, was supported by 54 of the 128 lawmakers in the Lebanese Parliament.
Mikati’s primary competition, Nawaf Salam, received the support of only 25 lawmakers. Forty-six lawmakers refused to support a candidate for the position.
Following the vote, Mikati, a 66-year-old billionaire businessman, was named as Lebanon’s prime minister-designate by President Michel Aoun.
Last month’s election saw the Iran-backed Shiite group Hizbullah and its allies lose their plurality in parliament
While Hizbullah itself maintained its strength in parliament, waning support for its allies, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, undermined the Hizbullah-led coalition; meanwhile, the Christian Lebanese Forces achieved greater election victories.
The election also saw 13 seats won by independent candidates, including anti-establishment figures who garnered popular support during the country’s October 2019 civil protests against the poor economy, public corruption, and sectarian rule.
The president’s consultation with parliament is an important prerequisite for nominating a new prime minister since the Taif Agreement, ratified by the Lebanese parliament in November 1989, stipulates this as a necessary measure to curtail the powers of the president.
Nevertheless, the consultations must adhere to the Lebanese constitutional clause that the prime minister must always be a Sunni Muslim.
In 1943, the National Pact, an unwritten agreement that established political divisions along sectarian lines, stipulated that power would be distributed among the respective religious groups according to their demographic proportionality.
Seats in parliament were divvied up at a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims, and the top three government positions, or ‘troika’ were given to the three largest religious groups respectively.
Under the pact, the president would be a Maronite Christian, the speaker a Shia Muslim, and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.
While the Taif Agreement reversed the 6-to-5 seat ratio in the parliament, replacing it with an equal ratio of Christians to Muslims, the ‘troika’ rule has remained in force.
The agreement was supposed to put an end to sectarian divisions within parliament, restricting them to a new upper house, yet this clause was never enforced.
The heterogenous protest movement which erupted in October 2019, initially over attempts to tax social media apps, expanded to encompass concerns over inept government, rising taxes and rampant corruption. It repeatedly called for the reform of Lebanon’s political system, to no avail.
The protest’s slogan was “all of them means all of them,” a call for governmental officials across the board to step down in favor of widespread reforms and new non-sectarian candidates.
According to the 2019 Arab Barometer survey, only 20% of the Lebanese people trust core public institutions.
As Lina Khatib and John Wallace of Chatham House wrote last year, the sectarian power-sharing structure of Lebanese politics “was agreed primarily as a division of power between the elites of the time rather than a structure aimed at ensuring good governance of a nation state.”
They explain that the resultant situation is “a weak, corrupt, patronage-based system, where powerful men dispense government jobs to receive loyalty from employees rather than to reward competence or skill.”
Now that Mikati has been designated, he must attempt to form a government. Yet this is not a guaranteed outcome.
Indeed, Saad Hariri, who was prime minister from 2009 to 2011, and 2016 to 2020, announced in January that he was leaving politics, having failed for nine months to form a government after his nomination in 2019.
The current cabinet, led by Mikati, went into caretaker mode after May’s election, and will remain in that position until a new prime minister is elected.
Nevertheless, Mikati who formed his third government in September 2021, remains the bookkeepers’ favorite to assume the role for a fourth term.
Mikati is leader of the Azm movement and has filled the role of prime minister on three previous occasions: following the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005, in 2011, and 2021.
In his most recent term, Mikati promised to stabilize the Lebanese pound, secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and achieve justice for those affected by the Beirut port blast.
While Mikati has secured a potentially inadequate preliminary grant of $3 billion from the IMF, subject to several conditions, he has failed to follow through on his other promises.
Nevertheless, at a university graduation ceremony in Tripoli last week, he expressed an eagerness to be reappointed as prime minister, stating that he is “ready for public service” but will retain “clear national and personal principles.”
Mikati also said that he “will not hesitate to reject any attempt to engage us in settlements in which the country has no interest, or in political bargains that contradict our principles,” presumably referring to the hoped-for reforms of the independents.
Mikati was supported by the Amal Movement, headed by long-term immovable parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, alongside their allies in Hizbullah.
Together, the Shiite alliance controls 27 votes in parliament, as well as several key positions inside the caretaker cabinet under Mikati, namely culture, finance, agriculture, and public works.
Mikati also received the support of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who controls nine seats in parliament, and a further 16 Sunni members of parliament.
For the 13 independent, anti-establishment lawmakers, Mikati embodies all that they find reprehensible in the current system. He is perceived as a symbol of the ancient regime that they sought to displace and is blamed for Lebanon’s economic collapse.
The independents largely supported Salam, a 68-year-old Sunni politician, jurist and diplomat, for prime minister.
Despite support from the independents, and three lawmakers from the Maronite Phalange Party, Salam was snubbed by Hizbullah in 2019 on the grounds that he was too sympathetic to the United States.
Mikati will continue to fill his role as caretaker prime minister as he embarks upon the long and convoluted process of forming a government.
He has repeated the necessity of attaining a bailout from the IMF and, to this end, emphasized the need to approve conditional legislation that is required by the IMF for this to become a reality.
Aron Rosenthal is a student at the University of Edinburgh and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.
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