Lebanon's cabinet meets for first time in six months

Nine ministers aligned with Free Patriotic Movement threatened to boycott 'unconstitutional' meeting

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has headed a caretaker government for months. AFP
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Lebanon's cabinet met for the first time in more than six months on Monday despite a boycott by seven ministers.

The two-thirds quorum needed for the 24-member cabinet to meet appeared unlikely after nine ministers issued a joint statement on Sunday to say the meeting would be unconstitutional and that they would not attend.

The ministers were aligned mainly with the Free Patriotic Movement founded by former president Michel Aoun. However, two of the nine appeared to change course and arrived at the Grand Serail for the meeting on Monday morning.

The government has been in caretaker status — severely limiting its powers — since May's parliamentary elections amid a failure to agree over the make-up of Prime Minister Najib Mikati's Council of Ministers.

Article 64 of the Lebanese constitution states that “the government shall not exercise its powers before it gains confidence nor after it has resigned or is considered resigned, except in the narrow sense of a caretaker government”.

The joint statement by the nine ministers said “we are most concerned with people's issues and dealing with them, and we do not lack a means to achieve this … however, we are obligated to respect and preserve the constitution”.

Mr Mikati had said a cabinet meeting was necessary in order to continue the provision of important services such as medical treatment.

Speaking as the meeting began, Mr Mikati said it was “exceptional in every sense of the word”. He said the most important file was related to cancer treatment and dialysis.

He hit out at those who had sought to disrupt the meeting, saying he would “not contribute to committing the crime of killing patients by abstaining”.

Mr Aoun said on Sunday the planned meeting was an “attempt to seize power”, with detractors of Mr Mikati accusing him of trying to avoid the vital step of electing a president.

Eight parliamentary sessions have failed to elect a successor to Mr Aoun, a former army chief who completed his term at the end of October.

In justifying the meeting, Mr Mikati had earlier said: “We will only approve the matters that are deemed important and urgent by ministers.

“It disappoints me when some people consider the meeting a sectarian move or an attempt that targets a specific group.

“Do we discriminate when we provide assistance? What is being said is unacceptable. There’s a file related to cancer and dialysis patients that should be approved.”

Mr Aoun and Mr Mikati were at loggerheads for months over the make-up of Lebanon's cabinet, and failed to reach agreement before the former stepped down as head of state.

In an interview with The National in October, Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil, Mr Aoun's son-in-law, said Mr Mikati “has no right to impose on the president a government of his own, that has no confidence from the parliament, that is not in alignment with the last parliamentary elections”.

The vacuum is increasing fears of further political paralysis and that reforms needed to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund will not be implemented.

Lebanon's economic collapse has been described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history, with much of the population now living in poverty. The local currency has lost more than 95 per cent of its value, inflation is rampant and there are widespread shortages of electricity, clean water, medicines and other basic essentials.

Updated: December 05, 2022, 12:25 PM