Lebanon’s cabinet heads to controversial vote of confidence

Diab’s government faces the twin challenges of angry street protests and a collapsing economy.
Sunday 09/02/2020
Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22. (Reuters)

BEIRUT - Lebanese parliamentarians are preparing a vote of confidence regarding Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Hezbollah-backed government amid extremely tight security aimed at deterring anti-government demonstrators who pledged to escalate protests to disrupt the meeting.

The parliament is to convene February 11-12 to review the new cabinet’s policy statement and vote on whether to accept the proposed government.

“This government does not represent us so we are going to do everything possible non-violently to deny parliament that represents the corrupt political class of Lebanon to recreate an administration that represents and protects their interests,” said activist Marc Daou.

“We will mobilise the people and block roads leading to the parliament building to abort the session.”

Expressing apprehension at a possible crackdown, Daou said the government would be held responsible for any violence.

“Since this government does not represent the majority of the Lebanese people who are protesting in the street, the only way for it to get a vote of confidence is through violence and protection by the security and armed forces,” Daou added.

The Higher Defence Council, grouping leaders of security and military apparatuses, stated that “efforts will be coordinated between military and security agencies to pre-empt any acts of sabotage of the parliament session.”

Local newspaper al-Joumhouria quoted security officials as describing the planned measures as “similar to ones taken in a state of emergency.”

“The troops will carry out intensive and strict measures around several areas mainly in downtown Beirut (the parliament’s location), which will be more like a military operations zone. They will confront any riots, or any attempt to disturb security,” a security source told al-Joumhouria.

Demonstrators have on several occasions protested near parliament and prevented lawmakers from reaching the building.

Backed by Hezbollah and its allies, the Shia Amal Movement and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun, which hold a majority in parliament, the government is likely to win a vote of confidence.

The main opposition parties — the Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the Christian Lebanese Forces party and the Phalange party — were expected to vote against a confidence measure.

Diab’s government faces the twin challenges of angry street protests and a collapsing economy, with Lebanon burdened with a debt of nearly $90 billion, more than 150% of GDP.

The government’s policy statement was largely criticised for being void of a clear or detailed plan to deal with the crisis.

“The policy statement is mostly rhetorical and unlikely to win the badly needed (financial) support of the international community,” said political analyst Mounir Rabi’.

“For instance, it offered no solutions for the ailing electricity sector but readopted an electricity plan approved (by the previous government) in 2019. That means deficit and waste will continue and mistrust by the international community will persist.”

“Moreover, the government will not be able to implement severe and painful economic measures that are requested by the international community because Hezbollah is against imposing new taxes or revisiting salaries in the public sector,” he said.

The policy statement maintains the so-called army-people-resistance equation. The phrasing confers legitimacy to Hezbollah as an armed force and has sparked controversy in the past after being included in previous cabinet statements.