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Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday held a brief meeting with former PM Najib Mikati, who was named as PM Designate to try to form a government.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Monday named former PM Najib Mikati PM designate , after he garnered 72 votes in the binding parliamentary consultations

Like the previous nominee, Saad Hariri, he faces major challenges in navigating Lebanon’s power-sharing structure to secure agreement on a cabinet to tackle a crippling financial crisis.

Many expect him to quit soon after he is named prime minister designate, just like Hariri before him

Who is Mikati

Mikati, a Sunni Muslim, was chosen as caretaker prime minister in April 2005, when an outcry over Rafik Hariri’s killing forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. 

  • Mikati served three months until the election was won by an alliance of Sunni, Druze and Christian parties led by Hariri’s son, Saad.
  • Mikati was nominated prime minister again in June 2011, resigning in May 2013 and staying on in a caretaker capacity until February 2014.
  • The soft-spoken, Harvard-educated Mikati began building his Investcom business in the midst of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. 
  • He sold his telecoms interests to South Africa’s MTN Group for $5.5 billion in 2006.
  • In 2007 he founded the M1 Group, which has various investment interests. Last month , Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor sold its Myanmar operations to M1 Group for $105 million.
  • Mikati served as minister of public works and transport in three cabinets between 1998 and 2004.

In October 2019 state prosecutor accused Mikati of making illicit gains from a subsidized housing program, in the first corruption case filed since anti-government protesters took to the streets a week earlier .

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese filled the streets nationwide in October 2019 , taking aim at a political elite they blame for entrenched corruption and worsening living conditions.

More than 50 per cent of Lebanon’s population lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

Lebanese media reported that Mikati and his family members were accused of wrongly receiving millions of dollars in subsidised housing loans.

The loans were supposed to help low and middle-income Lebanese buy homes.

But Mikati denied the charges and claimed that the charges were punishment for not supporting the election of President Michel Aoun in 2016

How wealthy is he?

Mikati, 63, is has multiple business interests in West Africa and across the globe, in partnership with his brother Taha.

The former premier’s estimated wealth is $2.5 billion, making him among the world’s 1,000 richest people, according to Forbes.

Mikati and his billionaire brother – the two wealthiest men in Lebanon – co-founded the Beirut-based firm M1 Group, which has investments in telecommunications companies in South Africa, and other holdings in Monaco, London and New York.

They hail from Tripoli, which has some of the country’s highest poverty rates, and has witnessed some of the biggest protests.

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 militant movement that Washington deems a terrorist group, nominated Mikati in Monday’s consultations and most of the main parliamentary blocs supported the nomination.

“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,” Mohammad Raad, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc leader 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 makeup with Aoun.

Hariri told reporters after meeting Aoun that he hoped Mikati would be chosen and succeed in forming a cabinet.

“The country has a chance today,” he said.

Aoun’s son-in-law MP Gebran Bassil who he’s the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement bloc did not name anyone despite the reports that claimed he was going to nominate former US ambassador Nawaf Salam

The news of Mikati’s likely designation boosted the Lebanese pound 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 and the parliament speaker post is held by a a Shiite .

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.

The elephant in the room remains Hezbollah, the ultimate force in Lebanese politics that keeps the corrupt class in power. On the one hand, it participates in corruption, benefiting from smuggling operations and the drug trade, behaving like an international criminal network, comparable to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. On the other hand, Hezbollah also acts as a proxy agent of the Iranian regime. The Lebanese refer to it as “the occupier ,” serving the needs of Tehran and not the Lebanese people.

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