BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanon’s new Cabinet won a vote of confidence in parliament on Monday in a session that was delayed by nearly an hour due to a power outage and a broken generator at the site .
The blackout highlighted the multiple crises rocking the small Mediterranean nation amid an unprecedented economic collapse, including a fuel shortage that has crippled the country.
Nonetheless, the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, which was formed earlier this month after more than a year of squabbling among politicians as the crisis worsened, won the votes of the majority of MPs in the legislature of 128 members.
The vote paves the way for his cabinet to attempt to tackle the country’s devastating economic and financial crisis which has impoverished more than half of the population in a matter of months and left the national currency in free fall, driving inflation to levels never seen before.
“From the heart of Beirut’s suffering (…) our government has emerged to light a candle in this darkness,” Mikati said, addressing lawmakers at the session.
Mikati pledged to get to work immediately to stop the collapse and alleviate the daily suffering of the Lebanese.
“What happened here today with the blackout is nothing compared to what the Lebanese people have been suffering for months,” Mikati added.
While reading the government’s policy statement, he was interrupted by Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who asked him to skip parts of it as it was not clear how long the electricity would stay on.
The Lebanese have lived for months with power outages and severe shortages of fuel, diesel and medicine, forcing hospitals to cut operations and threatening to close bakeries and schools. Queues of several kilometers (miles) of people waiting to fill their tanks are daily at gas stations across the country.
The crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has ruled the country since the end of the 15-year civil war in Lebanon in 1990.
The new government faces a difficult and uncertain road. He is expected to undertake much-needed reforms, as well as deal with public anger and tensions resulting from the planned lifting of fuel subsidies by the end of the month. Lebanon’s foreign exchange reserves are dangerously low, and the import-dependent country’s central bank has said it is no longer able to support its $ 6 billion subsidy program.
The government is also expected to oversee a financial audit of the central bank and resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
Mikati, a billionaire businessman and one of the richest men in Lebanon, pledged to do all of this in his cabinet’s policy statement. But few believe it can be done with a government that leaves power in the hands of the same political parties the public accuses of corruption and mismanagement of Lebanon’s resources.
Mikati is returning to the post of prime minister for the third time and is widely regarded as part of the post-civil war Lebanese ruling elite who got rich while doing little to develop the country.
“Lebanon so desperately needed a messiah that it was ready to settle for a fake,” Christophe Abi-Nassif, director of the Lebanon program at the Middle East Institute, wrote in an analysis. “The socio-economic situation of the country could indeed improve, but at the cost of a new legitimation of the establishment in the eyes of many Lebanese”, he added.
Monday’s parliamentary session was held in a Beirut theater known as the UNESCO Palace so Members of Parliament could observe social distancing measures imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers, who sweated as they stood outside the venue waiting for the electricity problem to be resolved, ridiculed the blackout as emblematic of Lebanon’s problems.
“This is not a good sign,” said lawmaker Faisal Sayegh. “We have to light up this room, tell people that we can light up the country. “