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Lebanon’s PM-designate Mikati reports progress, albeit slow, toward forming cabinet

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati

Lebanon’s new Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati says progress, though slow, has been achieved toward forming a desperately-needed cabinet in the cash-strapped Arab country, stressing that donor countries will not help Lebanon unless it helps itself.

A caretaker administration by former premier Hassan Diab has run the small country since the aftermath of a colossal explosion at the port in Beirut that destroyed swathes of the capital and left more than 200 people dead on August 4 last year.

The catastrophic blast ultimately led to Diab’s resignation, with politicians failing to agree on a consensus government even as Lebanon has been paralyzed by a major financial crisis, which has so far put the currency in a free fall, vanished jobs, and made banks freeze accounts.

Sixty-five-year-old Mikati, a tycoon and former premier, was just recently designated to form a new government some two weeks after the former premier-designate, Saad Hariri, resigned as a result of a nine-month political deadlock.

On Thursday and after he met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Mikati described the meeting as a positive step forward in forming a cabinet.

“Today’s meeting was a positive step forward. Today we made progress ... even if the progress was slow. But we are persevering, and insistent on forming the government,” said Mikati, whose country faces severe shortages of basic goods such as medicine and fuel.

Early this week, he had acknowledged that the formation of his cabinet was slower than expected, implying that he had a bumpy road ahead in forming a new government. He also warned that his efforts would not be open-ended.

The new prime minister-designate will need to agree with Aoun on the composition of any new government in a bid to fill the persisting political vacuum and address the ongoing socioeconomic crisis.

“If you Lebanese aren’t helping each other, you want us to help you? This is where I started my meeting with his Excellency the President and I told him the government must be formed,” Mikati said.

Back in May, the 51-year-old Hariri said he would not form a government that simply complies with the wishes of Aoun, who is a Maronite Christian, nor any other political faction.

Hariri was tasked with forming a government for a fourth time in October 2020. That was one year after he resigned as prime minister amid mass protests.

The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value since fall 2019 and more than half of the population has been rendered jobless as businesses have shut down.

Half of the population is now living below the poverty line as prices are skyrocketing and the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

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