New Lebanese Prime Minister vows to stabilize economic collapse
New Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday pledged to take control of one of the world’s worst economic collapses, saying the lifting of subsidies would be essential for the government of the small country formed after a year of political stalemate.
Holding back tears, Mikati, one of the richest men in the country, said he recognizes the pain of Lebanese mothers who cannot feed their children or find aspirin to relieve their ailments, as well as college students. whose parents can no longer afford to send them. at school.
“The situation is difficult but not impossible to manage if we cooperate,” Mikati told reporters at the presidential palace, where the new composition of the government was announced.
Lebanon has not had a fully empowered government since the catastrophic explosion of August 4, 2020 in the port of Beirut, which forced the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab. The economic crisis that has unfolded since 2019 has been compounded by the stalemate between rival political groups, who have argued over the distribution of power and roles within the new government.
The new government faces a colossal task that few believe can be overcome, including undertaking much-needed reforms. Among its first missions will be the management of public anger and tensions resulting from the lifting of fuel subsidies expected by the end of the month.
Lebanon’s foreign reserves have grown dangerously low, and the import-dependent country’s central bank has said it is no longer able to support the country’s $ 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.
The deal breaks a 13-month stalemate that has seen the country sink further into financial chaos and poverty over the past year.
The date for convening parliament to approve the government and its plan has not yet been announced.
The new cabinet of 24 ministers headed by billionaire businessman Mikati was announced by the office of the president and later by the secretary general of the Council of Ministers, Mahmoud Makkieh. The ministers were handpicked by the same politicians who have ruled the country for the past decades, blamed by many for the corruption and mismanagement that has led to the country’s current crisis.
Many members of the new cabinet are experts in their fields, including Firas Abiad, director general of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the public hospital leading the fight against the coronavirus. Abiad, who has received praise for his transparency in handling the pandemic, has been appointed Minister of Health. A senior central bank official, Youssef Khalil, has been appointed finance minister, and Bassam Mawlawi, a judge, is the new interior minister.
The new Cabinet is also expected to oversee general elections slated for next year.
Mikati, from the poor northern city of Tripoli, was tasked with forming a new government in July. He served as prime minister twice – in 2005 and again from 2011 to 2013 – and is widely seen as part of the same political class that drove the country into bankruptcy.
“I hope we can meet people’s aspirations and at least stop the collapse,” he said on Friday. He said the government would launch a bailout for the country.
It was not immediately clear what sudden compromise resulted in the breakthrough on Friday. The announcement of a new government comes after renewed pressure from the United States and France to form a government as Lebanon’s economic collapse reached a critical point that risked a social explosion. Chilling shortages of fuel and medicine have threatened to shut down hospitals, bakeries and the internet across the country and have caused friction, sometimes violence, in long lines to fill vehicles.
The currency has lost 90% of its value against the dollar since October 2019, leading to hyperinflation and pushing more than half of the population into poverty.
Lebanese journalist and political analyst Salem Zahran said a new government was providing a “dose of oxygen” to Lebanese whose lives have been turned upside down by the crisis.
“A positive shock has occurred, but we have to see how the government will operate and how it will negotiate with the IMF,” Zahran said.
In the hours following the formation of the government, the national currency strengthened on the black market, from 19,000 to 15,000 to the dollar.
Mikati became a favorite for the post earlier this year after being backed by most Lebanese political parties, including the powerful militant group Hezbollah backed by Iran and the other major Shiite party, Amal, led by the president. of Parliament Nabih Berri. Mikati has also been backed by former Sunni prime ministers, including former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who abandoned his efforts to form a government earlier this year after failing for more than eight months to come to an agreement with President Michel Aoun on the composition of the cabinet.
The international community refused to provide financial assistance to Lebanon until sweeping reforms were implemented to tackle widespread corruption and mismanagement.
Alain Aoun, MP representing the largest Christian bloc close to the Lebanese president, said international pressure and “signals” from Americans and Iranians that they had no conditions or reservations on the form of government had accelerated an agreement between the domestic authorities. rival parties.
“The American message was really pushing for the formation of the government,” he said, while the same message came from the Iranian president during a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron.