Lebanon: The under-fire premier proposed reforms and addressed the protests in a televised press conference that followed a cabinet meeting during which much-delayed economic reforms and the 2020 budget were approved.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he supported demonstrators’ call for early elections on Monday, in the face of growing anti-government protests.
The under-fire premier was speaking in a televised press conference that followed a cabinet meeting during which much-delayed economic reforms and the 2020 budget were approved.
“These decisions are not designed as a trade-off. They are not to ask you to stop expressing your anger. That is your decision to make,” Hariri said.
“Your movement is what led to these decisions that you see today,” he added.
The protests, which started five days ago over tax hikes, have evolved into an unprecedented push to remove Lebanon’s entire political leadership.
Hariri said that he supported the demonstrators’ call for early elections.
“We have heard you. If your demand is early parliamentary elections, it is your voice only that decides. I, Saad Hariri, am with you in this demand.”
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied against corruption and the entire political class on Monday.
The five-day-old mobilisation has so far been remarkably incident free, with armies of volunteers forming to clean up the streets, provide water to protesters and organise first aid tents.
Lebanon’s debt-burdened economy has been sliding towards collapse in recent months, adding to the economic woes of a population exasperated by rampant corruption, the lack of job opportunities and poor services.
Among the protesters’ main grievances is the poor supply of electricity from the state.
Usually prone to blame anti-government mobilisation on another party or a foreign conspiracy, Lebanon’s top political figures have appeared to acknowledge that none of them were spared by public anger.
‘Lost trust’ in government
Only minutes after Hariri ended his televised speech, protesters on the streets expressed their dissatisfaction with the list of reforms and the current cabinet.
“These reforms should have happened years ago,” one of the protesters told Lebanon’s The Daily Star. “We no longer have trust in any of the political class. We need to remove the entire political class that is there now. The people have lost their confidence in them.”
“For 30 years we’ve been listening to them speak,” another protester named Hassan, told the daily. “Taxes, taxes, taxes. We demand that they lower taxes and that all resign from government. We’re not coming to break anything, but we don’t want these people in government.”
Last year, Lebanon held its first parliamentary polls in nine years after the deeply divided legislature repeatedly extended its own term.
But the May 2018 vote failed to shake up the multi-confessional country’s entrenched ruling class.
It saw veteran parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri elected to a sixth consecutive term.
The president renamed Hariri as premier, but he then struggled for more than eight months to form a coalition government.