Lebanon’s new government won a vote of confidence on Monday for a policy program that aims to remedy a devastating economic crisis, despite the fact that the parliamentary session was delayed when the lights went out due to power shortages.
The program drawn up by the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati promises to reactivate talks with the International Monetary Fund and initiate the reforms that donors want to see before unlocking much-needed foreign aid.
When the session finally began, the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, urged Mikati to keep his remarks brief due to power outages, part of a national energy crisis that has paralyzed normal life as foreign exchange reserves depleted.
“From the heart of Beirut’s suffering … our cabinet was born to light a candle in this desperate darkness,” Mikati said, as she read the program.
“Let’s not bother and read everything, let’s save time because of the electricity problem,” Berri, head of the Shiite Amal movement, told the Sunni Muslim prime minister.
However, the session lasted more than seven hours.
Lebanon is trapped in a deep depression, with a fuel shortage leading to hours of state-generated power and leaving people heavily dependent on private generators.
The cabinet won the vote with a majority of 85 out of 15.
Mikati, a billionaire mogul, faces a difficult path to a solid financial base.
“We will start with the IMF, this is not an option, it is something we have to go through,” he said in a speech, before the votes took place.
To unlock aid and reverse the economy, your government must succeed where numerous pioneers have failed to implement politically difficult reforms, including measures to tackle corruption and waste.
While some doubt that Mikati can achieve much, with parliamentary elections scheduled for next spring that will be followed by a change of government, others think that the severity of the crisis may lead to some reforms.
The Mikati government finally agreed after a year of political conflict over cabinet posts that exacerbated the crisis.
Its draft policy program said it would renew and develop a financial recovery plan drawn up by the previous government, which established a deficit in the financial system of about $ 90 billion, a figure supported by the IMF.
The plan was rejected by Lebanon’s political elite and the banking system, helping to end the IMF talks last year.
Lebanon’s financial system collapsed at the end of 2019. The root cause was decades of wasteful public spending and the unsustainable way it was financed.
Rich Gulf states, which had traditionally funneled funds into Lebanon, have been reluctant to come to their rescue for years, alarmed by the influence of the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah.
Mikati has vowed to return Lebanon to the Arab fold, but faces a delicate balancing act: Last week, Hezbollah successfully brought in a first shipment of Iranian fuel oil to alleviate energy shortages.
On Friday, Mikati, whose government includes Hezbollah-backed ministers, said the Iranian fuel was a violation of his country’s sovereignty.