Lawmakers have tasked ex-premier and billionaire tycoon with forming a government and ending a year of political deadlock that has further crippled the economy.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with former PM Najib Mikati, at the presidential palace, in Beirut, Lebanon on Monday, July 26, 2021.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, left, meets with former PM Najib Mikati, at the presidential palace, in Beirut, Lebanon on Monday, July 26, 2021. (AP)

Lebanon's newly appointed Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati has urged unity to begin recovery from a devastating economic and financial meltdown roiling the country. 

He said on Monday he will strive to form a new government but the situation is too dire to overcome alone.

Mikati spoke to reporters shortly after he was appointed to the post by President Michel Aoun, after Saad Hariri earlier this month gave up his months-long attempts to form a Cabinet.

"Alone, I don't have a magic wand and cannot achieve miracles," Mikati said. "We are in very difficult situation ... it is a difficult mission that can only succeed if we all work together."

Earlier, Lebanese lawmakers voted to designate billionaire businessman as prime minister, tasked with forming a government and ending a year-long political impasse amid an unprecedented financial crisis.

Mikati, a two-time premier who was last in power in 2014, clinched a clear majority of 72 votes out of 118 lawmakers.

Former PM Hariri gave up attempts to form a Cabinet earlier this month after failing to agree with Aoun on the Cabinet's makeup, as the country slipped into a financial meltdown that saw the Lebanese pound devalue by more than 90 percent, driving hyperinflation and thrusting half the country's population into poverty.

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One of the richest men in Lebanon, Mikati was endorsed by most of Lebanon's political parties including the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah group. 

Mikati was also endorsed by former Sunni prime ministers including Hariri. He faces Christian opposition, including from Aoun’s own political party, now led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil.

In Lebanon’s political system, the prime minister post is held by a Sunni Muslim, the presidency by a Maronite Christian, while the speaker of parliament is a Shia Muslim.

Political deadlock worsening crisis

The political deadlock, driven by a power struggle between Aoun and Hariri over constitutional rights and powers of the president and prime minister, has worsened a crippling economic and financial crisis.

It is not clear whether Mikati — widely considered an extension of the political class that brought the country to bankruptcy — will be able to break the year-long impasse over the formation of a new government. 

"We were on the verge of collapse, but when you see there's a fire in front of you and you see it spreading every day ... I decided, after relying on God, to take this step and try to limit the fire's spread," the tall, soft-spoken Mikati said.

Lebanon's economic and financial crisis began in late 2019 and has steadily worsened since then, with dire shortages of medicines, fuel and electricity in the last few months. 

Mikati's designation is the third so far since the current caretaker government headed by Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the massive explosion at Beirut's port last August. 

Since then, Diab's Cabinet has acted only in a caretaker capacity, compounding Lebanon's paralysis further.

The first to try to form a government was Lebanon's former ambassador to Germany, Mustafa Adib, who resigned last September, nearly a month after being designated prime minister. 

Hariri was appointed next and stepped down after 10 months.

Any new government faces the monumental task of undertaking desperately needed reforms as well as resuming talks with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue package. 

The international community has refused to help Lebanon financially before wide reforms are implemented to fight widespread corruption and mismanagement.

The investigation into the August 4 port explosion — triggered by the detonation of hundreds of thousands of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate — has exacerbated tensions in the small nation amid accusations of political meddling in the judiciary's work. 

More than 200 people were killed and thousands wounded in the blast, which defaced parts of the city.

Mikati's international backers 

Mikati, a Sunni billionaire from the northern city of Tripoli, served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2013, when he resigned at the height of the Syrian war after a two-year stint in a government dominated by Hezbollah and its allies.

He founded the telecommunications company Investcom with his brother Taha in the 1980s and sold it in 2006 to South Africa's MTN Group for $5.5 billion.

In 2007 he founded the M1 Group, which has various investment interests. This month, Norwegian telecoms operator Telenor sold its Myanmar operations to M1 Group for $105 million.

Mikati is supported by France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, and also the United States.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies