BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister has said he hopes to end the presidential vacuum but that his cabinet has the right to assume the office’s powers following the departure of Michel Aoun without a replacement.
Najib Mikati said that the country’s constitution allows for his administration’s use of presidential powers, and that he does not seek conflict in the crisis gripping Lebanese politics.
The comments followed a last-gasp attempt to dissolve Mikati’s caretaker government by Aoun, 89, shortly before his term ended on Sunday. However, both Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri effectively ignored the decree.
Mikati said he was confident that ministers from across Lebanon’s political spectrum would attend cabinet sessions and that there would be no boycott in the wake of Aoun’s attempt. He added that working in the national interest “will unite us.”
Berri announced a parliamentary session next Thursday to read through Aoun’s decree, eliminating the possibility of dissolving the caretaker government and forming a replacement within Aoun’s constitutional term.
MP Melhem Khalaf told Arab News: “Electing a new president is the priority now. We, the deputies, are now an electing body and we do not have the right to do anything else.
“What is the purpose behind the letter sent by Aoun to the parliament? Is it to discuss an outgoing president? What is the aim of the letter? If it is to withdraw Mikati’s designation, then what is the mechanism for that? There’s no mechanism.”
MP Kassem Hachem, a member of Berri’s parliamentary bloc, said the speaker had met all of his obligations.
“However, if some people think that the institutions should be at Aoun’s disposal, then this does not sit right with Berri,” he added.
Aoun’s six-year term was marred by mass protests, an economic meltdown and the August 2020 port explosion that killed hundreds of people and destroyed large areas of Beirut.
He was cheered by supporters of his Free Patriotic Movement, but few others, as he left office. Families of the Beirut port explosion victims, including mothers carrying pictures of their dead children, expressed their anger in the Sassine Square in Ashrafieh by tearing up pictures of Aoun.
One mother said that Aoun “has the power to cripple the country, kill our children, form an alliance with the biggest militia and paralyze the government and the republic, while we receive the bodies of our dead children.”
She also said Aoun knew that ammonium nitrate, which caused the blast, was stored at the port but did nothing about it under the pretext of not having any powers.
Meanwhile the Iranian regime, the key backer of Hezbollah, said that it wanted to see “stability, security and tranquility” in Lebanon.
Nasser Kanaani, spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called for the formation of a strong government that ensures “the interests of the Lebanese people, consolidates stability and helps strengthen its regional and international role.”
Mikati left for Algeria on Monday to attend the Arab Summit. He is expected to meet the presidents of other countries and officials from the EU who are attending as guests. He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and Energy Minister Walid Fayad.