Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon’s new government on Monday won a vote of confidence from parliament, after vowing to swiftly resume International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout talks and get cracking on a host of reforms to lift the country out of its worsening economic crisis.
Some 85 lawmakers gave Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government their vote of confidence, while 15 voted against it.
One hundred out of a possible 117 parliamentarians attended Monday’s session, which lasted over eight hours. Among those absent was former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who heads the Future Movement.
Lebanon has 128 MPs, but eight have resigned and three who have passed away have not yet been replaced.
Mikati and his new government gathered with lawmakers at the UNESCO Palace, the country’s makeshift parliament building in Beirut. The session began nearly an hour later than scheduled due to power cuts that routinely plague Lebanon.
“Our government emerged to light a candle in this deep darkness and spark a torch of hope and determination that we are able to combine our sincerest efforts for this beloved country,” Mikati said.
Mikati, who took office earlier this month promising to kick-start talks with the IMF and unlock billions of dollars in aid, has managed to give Lebanon its first full-fledged government after 13 months of political paralysis.
Prior to Monday’s vote, the multi-billionaire prime minister presented his government’s nine-page policy statement to lawmakers.
He promised his 24-minister government would enact a host of economic and structural reforms, and pledged to tackle chronic power outages, address food, fuel, and medicine shortages, combat rampant corruption, and end wasteful government spending.
Speaker Nabih Berri asked Mikati not to read the entire statement, fearing that the power could go out again before the session ended.
The United Nations recently estimated that almost three-quarters of the Lebanese population live in poverty. The World Bank has warned that the country’s economic crisis ranks as one of the three worst the world has seen in the past 150 years.
Band-aids vs meaningful changes
Since Lebanon first sank into crisis in October 2019, the country’s leadership has failed to deliver a credible economic reform blueprint that is a prerequisite for unlocking billions of dollars in aid.
But many experts believe that Mikati will struggle to deliver meaningful changes and that at best, Lebanon is looking at “Band-Aid” fixes that fail to address the underlying causes of its current crisis and place the country on firmer economic footing.
In addition to a handful of independent MPs, the Christian Lebanese Forces party was the only major political party in Lebanon that did not give a vote of confidence.
MP Sethrida Geagea of the Lebanese Forces said they cannot “bet” on Mikati’s government to implement wholesale reforms, given the parliamentary elections are next May, meaning that a new government would have to be formed soon afterward.
“The current government is temporary, and is supposed to be short lived,” Geagea said in parliament, referring to upcoming parliamentary elections in less than a year. “In the best-case scenario, it would manage the crisis.”
Meanwhile, the international community continues to offer developmental aid with the condition that Lebanon implements reforms to stop wasteful spending and corruption. The European Parliament recently threatened to sanction officials engaged in corruption and obstructing reforms.
Feras Abdallah, a 28-year-old architect, told Al Jazeera he is not too convinced that the new ministers can deliver real change, but he hopes they can at least take steps to alleviate the country’s very pressing fuel and medicine crisis.
“I just hope that they make this country a place that we can actually live in without us having to suffer every step of the way,” said Abdallah.
Aline Fleihan, a political activist in opposition group Li Haqqi, is not nearly as optimistic, telling Al Jazeera that the Mikati government represents the “system that caused the collapse of the country”.
“Mikati’s government is controlled by the banks, Central Bank and the oligarchs,” she said. “So its solution for the financial crisis will be based on helping them to escape the crisis and make the people pay for its losses.”
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