Outgoing Lebanese PM stays on as economic crisis deepens

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati won the backing of more than 50 lawmakers on Thursday to keep his post after last month’s legislative elections as the country’s multiple crises worsen with no solution in sight.

After a day of binding consultations between President Michel Aoun and the parliamentary blocs, Mikati was nominated by 54 lawmakers while his main rival for the post secured less than half that number. Forty-six lawmakers refrained from naming anyone.

The main mission of the new government will be to continue discussions with the International Monetary Fund on an economic recovery plan for Lebanon, which is in the grip of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.

The nearly three-year-old economic collapse – rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by Lebanon’s ruling class – is only getting worse without any serious steps being taken to begin to pull the country out of its troubles. . The economy has contracted, power cuts last for much of the day, and most people cannot access their savings in banks.

“Without an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, there will be no possibility of salvation. This (agreement) is the main door to salvation,” Mikati said after being chosen, adding that “we will not let Lebanon s ‘collapse’.

“We now face the challenge of total collapse or gradual salvation,” Mikati said. He says he reaches out “to everyone without exception. The nation needs our weapons.

In April, Lebanon and the IMF reached an agreement in principle on comprehensive economic policies that could eventually pave the way for some relief for the country after Beirut implements far-reaching reforms.

The service-level agreement between Lebanon and the IMF lists five “key pillars” that must be implemented, including the restructuring of the financial sector, the implementation of tax reforms and the proposed restructuring of external public debt, the fight against corruption and money laundering.

Mikati said his government would continue discussions with the IMF, adding that the agreement reached in April could be used as a roadmap.

Mikati was expected to win the strongest support from lawmakers to form a new cabinet that will be in power until the end of October, when Aoun’s six-year term expires. Such a short tenure could make it difficult for the billionaire prime minister to form a cabinet, as it usually takes months to form a government in Lebanon due to political wrangling.

The other candidate for the post was Lebanon’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Nawaf Salam, who is backed by independents, the nationalist Kataeb party and the bloc backed by Druze leader Walid Joumblatt. Salam was chosen by 25 legislators.

Mikati had the support of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group and its Shia ally, Amal Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, as well as some Sunni lawmakers.

The two largest Christian blocs, the Saudi-backed Lebanese Forces party and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement bloc, did not name anyone.

“We have chosen not to name anyone because we are not in favor of the choice of Prime Minister Mikati because it will be difficult to form a government during this short period,” said Gebran Bassil, who leads the movement.

Mikati’s previous government, which was formed in September, became an interim cabinet after parliamentary elections on May 15 that gave the majority of seats in the legislature to major political groups accused of decades of corruption and mismanagement that have led to economic collapse.

Last month’s vote for the 128-member legislature also saw Hezbollah and its allies lose majority seats in parliament they have held since 2018.

Since the economic collapse that began in October 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and many have left the small country of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees. .

The Lebanese crisis has been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive explosion in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands, and destroyed the port of Beirut and damaged parts of the country’s capital.

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