Lebanon's Mikati pushes for Cabinet formation

Prime minister-designate presents President Michel Aoun with a proposal on the distribution of portfolios

Lebanese prime minister-designate Najib Mikati speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda. Reuters

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate Najib Mikati has submitted a proposal to the president on the allocation of ministerial portfolios, as part of efforts to form a Cabinet to enact reforms in exchange for promised international aid.

Mr Mikati met President Michel Aoun for a third consecutive day on Wednesday.

Mr Mikati said he was hopeful an agreement on the Cabinet would be reached.

“I handed over my proposals. Most of them were well-received by the president. At the same time, I’m taking into consideration all the president’s remarks,” he said.

Mr Aoun will assess the list before making suggestions, his office said after the meeting.

A source close to the president said the list featured the distribution of portfolios among confessional groups, with discussions yet to touch on ministerial candidates.

Lebanon’s political system is based on confessionalism, where various religious groups are guaranteed representation in government.

The two officials agreed to meet again on Thursday to pursue discussions, the president's office said.

The formation of a Cabinet has been at the heart of recent demands by the international community, led by the US and EU, in exchange for financial support to help relieve Lebanon's severe economic crisis.

On Tuesday, the US renewed its call for Lebanon's politicians to “quickly form a government…committed to implementing critical reforms”.

The EU, on the other hand, is threatening to slap Lebanese officials with sanctions for blocking much-needed reforms to tackle the country's severe economic depression.

Mr Mikati, the billionaire businessman and third prime minister to be designated in less than a year, was backed for the post by his predecessor Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician.

Mr Hariri said his support was the result of an agreement that Mr Mikati would uphold the same principles the Future Movement leader had embraced during his failed bid to form a government.

Mr Hariri stepped down after ten months of bickering with the president over the Cabinet’s line-up, accusing Mr Aoun of blocking the formation of a government of non-partisan experts in line with a French initiative to support Lebanon.

Mr Hariri argued the president was seeking a government in which his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, would have had veto power over key resolutions.

Mr Bassil, the leader of the largest parliamentary bloc and an ally of the Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah, has denied Mr Mikati the support of a major Christian party: the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founded by the president.

Mr Bassil argued that Mr Hariri was seeking to dictate the Cabinet's line-up in breach of the constitution, and on Tuesday informed Mr Mikati that his FPM would not take part in the upcoming Cabinet.

Months of political bickering and stalemate have aggravated Lebanon’s financial woes and sparked demonstrations over deteriorating living conditions.

The crisis, which began in late 2019, has plunged over half the population into poverty and led to shortages in medicines and fuel.

Lebanon's economic downturn was compounded by the massive Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people in August last year and caused billions of dollars in property damage.

The blast forced caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s resignation, leaving Lebanon without a functioning government since.

Updated: July 28, 2021, 6:36 PM