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Lebanon: Najib Mikati secures parliamentary majority to become prime minister designate

Wealthy businessman, who has been premier twice before, faces uphill task in tackling country's financial crisis
Mikati, right, held a brief meeting with President Michel Aoun, left, earlier on Monday (AFP)

Najib Mikati has received the backing of the majority of Lebanese parliamentarians to become prime minister designate having earlier held a brief meeting with President Michel Aoun on Monday.

The wealthy businessman gained 73 votes out of 118 members of parliament.

Mikati, who has been premier twice before and - unlike many leaders in Lebanon - does not hail from a political bloc or dynasty, did not give any statement after the meeting with Aoun that formally began the consultations to designate a prime minister.

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Like the previous nominee, Saad al-Hariri, he faces major challenges in navigating Lebanon's power-sharing structure to secure agreement on a cabinet to tackle a crippling financial crisis.

Lebanon has been run by a caretaker administration for nearly a year, since a huge blast devastated large parts of Beirut.

The country's economic freefall, the worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, has seen its currency collapse, jobs vanish and bank accounts frozen. 

'The country has a chance'

The Hezbollah movement nominated Mikati in Monday's consultations and most of the main parliamentary blocs supported the nomination.

"Today, with signs that hint at the possibility of forming a government... that's why we named Mikati, to give an extra boost to facilitate forming a government," Muhammad Raad, the leader of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, told reporters ahead of the parliamentary vote.

Among Mikati's endorsers was Hariri, who abandoned his effort to form a new government last week after nearly 10 months of failing to agree its makeup with Aoun.

Hariri told reporters after meeting Aoun that he hoped Mikati would be chosen and succeed in forming a cabinet, Reuters reported.

"The country has a chance today," Hariri said.

Western pressure

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Earlier, the news of Mikati's likely designation had boosted the Lebanese pound on the unofficial parallel market, where dollars changed hands at around 16,500 pounds, compared to more than 22,000 at the height of the deadlock over the government.

In Lebanon's political system, the post of prime minister has to be held by a Sunni Muslim, while the presidency is held by a Maronite Christian.

Western governments have been piling pressure on Lebanon, one of the most heavily indebted states in the world, to form a government that can set about reforming the corrupt state. 

They have threatened to impose sanctions and said financial support will not flow before reforms begin.