Lebanon’s newly appointed Cabinet secured a vote of confidence from parliament on Monday, paving the way for billionaire prime minister Najib Mikati to pursue long due reforms to tackle the country’s financial meltdown.
The financial crisis left its mark on the parliamentary session, delaying it by an hour due to a power outage, a frequent theme across a country suffering from acute fuel shortages.
Lawmakers waited outside the main chamber for power to be restored to the building before Speaker Nabih Berri kicked off the meeting to debate the Cabinet’s policy statement.
The government of Mr Mikati, the third prime minister to be designated to lead a cabinet after nearly a year of political paralysis, won the support of a large majority.
85 lawmakers voted for the government including members of the Iran-backed Hezbollah, its Shiite ally Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, the Future Movement (FM) led by former premier Saad Hariri, the country’s top Muslim Sunni official, and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the largest Christian party founded by the president and currently led by his son-in-law Gebran Bassil.
Fifteen independent MPs and lawmakers affiliated with the Lebanese Forces, the FPM’s political rivals and second largest Christian party, opposed the Cabinet.
The vote of confidence followed interventions by lawmakers who debated the Cabinet’s policy statement.
Mr Mikati was urged by speaker Mr Berri to quickly finish his remarks to allow enough time for lawmakers to discuss the Cabinet’s policy statement before the vote of confidence was held.
“We restored electricity but we’re not sure it is sustainable,” Mr Berri said.
The new Cabinet will seek to resume negotiations with the IMF and would give priority to boosting the state’s power supply, Mr Mikati told lawmakers.
But Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said any agreement with the IMF should be negotiated, cautioning the government against adopting a “pre-defined” deal.
A close ally of Hezbollah, Mr Bassil said his bloc would vote for the Cabinet to pursue anticorruption reforms in line with its policy statement.
Mr Bassil had previously refrained from nominating Mr Mikati to serve as prime minister for the post, arguing that his support for the Cabinet was conditional on its makeup and programme.
Mr Mikati replaced Mr Hariri who stepped down after nine months of bickering with President Michel Aoun over the Cabinet lineup. The political deadlock plunged the country further into crisis.
Future Movement MP Bahia Hariri told lawmakers her party was backing the government to “save” the country.
The vote of confidence came less than a week after ministers approved a policy statement that says the government is committed to the implementation of reforms, a key condition of international powers and the International Monetary Fund to unlock financial support.
Prior to the vote, LF MP Antoine Habshi took aim at the cabinet, saying it represents the political class responsible for Lebanon’s current economic woes. He also criticised Mr Mikati’s failure to condemn Hezbollah’s import of Iranian fuel into Lebanon through illegitimate channels last week.
Lebanon’s crisis has worsened in recent months with fuel shortages and power cuts crippling various industries. Clashes have erupted over the lack of petrol and diesel to power generators.
The worsening shortages follow the central bank's decision to cut subsidies of vital imports of oil, petrol and diesel to protect its dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The state-owned power company has been rationing its supply of electricity to a daily maximum of two hours.