Lebanon’s president holds consultations to name premier

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s president began consultations with members of parliamentary blocs on Thursday to name a new prime minister following last month’s parliamentary elections.

Outgoing Prime Minister Najib Mikati is widely expected to get the largest support from legislators to form a new Cabinet that will be in power until the end of October when President Michel Aoun’s six-year term expires. Such a short tenure could make it difficult for the billionaire premier to form a Cabinet since it usually takes months to form a government in Lebanon due to political bickering.

Another candidate for the post is Lebanon’s former ambassador to the U.N. Nawaf Salam, who is backed by some independents as well as the nationalist Kataeb Party and the bloc backed by Druze leader Walid Joumblatt.

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

Mikati has the backing of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Mikati also has the support for some Sunni legislators.

One of the two largest Christian blocs, the Saudi-backed Lebanese Forces party, said it will not name any candidate while it was not clear who the bloc led by Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement will name. The head of FPM, legislator Gebran Bassil, said he will not name Mikati.

Several legislators have said they will not name any candidate for the prime minister’s post.

Mikati’s previous government that he formed in September became a caretaker Cabinet after the May 15, parliamentary elections that gave the majority of the legislature’s seats to mainstream political groups that are blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement that led to the economic meltdown.

Last month’s vote also saw Hezbollah and its allies lose majority seats in parliament that they had held since 2018.

Lebanon’s economic meltdown that began in October 2019 was described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world since the 1850s. Since then, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, tens of thousands have become jobless, and many have left the small nation of 6 million people, which includes 1 million Syrian refugees.

The crisis was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive blast in August 2020 that killed more than 200, injured thousands and destroyed Beirut’s port and damaged parts of the capital.