BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Parliament opened Monday a debate on the policy statement of Prime Minister Najib Mikati's new government, before a vote of confidence that it appeared set to easily win.
Speaker Nabih Berri chaired the general parliamentary session at UNESCO Palace, which opened with Mikati reading out the policy of his 24-member Cabinet made up of specialists before MPs take the floor to debate it. The session was delayed for about an hour due to an electricity outage in the building -- typical in a country suffering from severe fuel shortages.
The government is expected to win the votes of more than 90 MPs out of the current 117 members in the legislature after declarations by a number of independent MPs and the Lebanese Forces’ 13-member parliamentary Strong Republic bloc that they will not vote for the government.
Eight MPs resigned from Parliament last year in the wake of the devastating Beirut Port explosion, while three others passed away. The 11 have not been replaced.
The Parliament session came four days after the Cabinet unanimously approved a draft policy statement that pledges to enact reforms, a key demand of donors, and resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a bailout package to rescue the debt-ridden nation from the worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War. The policy statement said the government would also resume negotiations with creditors over a restructuring of public debt on which Lebanon defaulted last year.
In addition to outlining internal and external policies, the policy statement also sets the government’s priorities and plans to deal with the economic depression, including severe food, fuel and medicine shortages and chronic power cuts that have paralyzed normal life in the country. The government pledged to hold parliamentary elections, scheduled in May 2022, on time.
The speed with which the policy statement was drafted and later endorsed by the Cabinet without differences over thorny sensitive issues, such as Hezbollah’s arms, and the expected swift vote of confidence less than two weeks after its formation clearly reflected the government’s resolve to quickly move forward to tackle a series of crises facing the Lebanese, including an unprecedented financial downturn that has propelled more than 70 percent of Lebanon’s 6 million population into poverty amid a crashing currency that has lost around 90 percent of its value since late 2019.