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Lebanon announces government after eight-month delay

By AFP - Jan 31,2019 - Last updated at Jan 31,2019

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri reacts after the announcement of the new government at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, on Thursday (Reuters photo)

BEIRUT — Lebanon announced a government line-up Thursday, ending an eight-month wait that had heightened fears of a major economic collapse.

The new Cabinet, unveiled during a press conference at the presidential palace, includes 30 ministers from Lebanon's rival political clans.

The new line-up is to see four women take up office, including at the head of the interior and energy ministries.

Gibran Bassil is to remain as foreign minister, while Ali Hassan Khalil is also staying on in charge of the finance ministry.

On May 24, after parliamentary elections, President Michel Aoun quickly nominated Prime Minister Saad Hariri for his third term as premier and tasked him with forming a Cabinet.

But political parties in the small multiconfessional country spent eight months arguing over the new government's make-up.

"We are facing economic, financial, social and administrative challenges," Hariri said at a press conference after the announcement.

"It has been a difficult political period, especially after the elections, and we must turn the page and start working," he said.

Late Thursday, fireworks resounded in the Lebanese capital.

A new government will be able to unlock billions of dollars in aid pledged at a conference in April, notably to help boost the country's ailing infrastructure.

Lebanon is governed by a complex system which aims to maintain a precarious balance of power across religious and political communities.

But finding that equilibrium in government Cabinets often takes time.

In 2009, it took Hariri five months to form a government, while his successor Tammam Salam took a whole ten months after he was nominated in 2013.

These delays are often linked to tensions over neighbouring Syria.


Economic challenges 

They have been exacerbated since civil war broke out there in 2011, sending tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing into Lebanon.

This time round, the latest sticking point was finding a spot in government to represent Sunni independent lawmakers opposed to the premier but allied to Hizbollah.

Listed as a terror organisation by the United States, Hizbollah is the only party not to have disarmed after the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990.

It is a staunch ally of the regime in Syria, where it has helped President Bashar Assad’s forces regain large parts of the country from rebels and extremists.

After its formation, the new government now has 30 days to draw up a ministerial declaration to outline its priorities before it starts working.

This too could prove to be difficult, in view of internal divisions.

Contentious issues include Lebanon’s relations with Syria’s Assad, the future of around one million Syrian refugees in a country of 4.5 million, and Hizbollah’s weapons arsenal.

Analysts says the new cabinet’s main challenge will be the economy.

Lebanon’s service-oriented economy had looked on the brink of collapse for some time, but a Paris conference dubbed CEDRE in April made aid pledges worth $11 billion.

It is one of the world’s most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 per cent of gross domestic product in 2018, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

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