For­mer min­is­ter calls Hariri’s prom­ises ‘too lit­tle, too late’ and sup­ports early elec­tions to end na­tional un­rest

The National - News - - NEWS - Sunniva Rose

Le­banon’s Labour Min­is­ter Camille Abousleima­n, who re­signed at the week­end, told

The Na­tional that Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri’s re­form prom­ises were “too lit­tle, too late” as Le­banon en­tered its sixth day of anti-gov­ern­ment protests.

Mr Abousleima­n sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion on Sunday evening, with three other min­is­ters of the Chris­tian-ma­jor­ity Le­banese Forces party, af­ter an an­nounce­ment by party leader Samir Geagea.

On Monday, af­ter Mr Hariri an­nounced Cab­i­net-backed re­forms to ap­pease pro­test­ers, Mr Abousleima­n de­scribed them as un­re­al­is­tic and pop­ulist.

Mr Hariri said the 2020 bud­get would have a 0.6 per cent deficit, paid for in part by a tax on bank prof­its. Le­banon is one of the most heav­ily in­debted coun­tries in the world.

His 18-point pro­posal in­cludes halv­ing salaries for cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials, pri­vatis­ing tele­coms and pro­vid­ing 24-hour elec­tric­ity.

“If pro­test­ers want early par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, I will sup­port it,” Mr Hariri said.

Asked how he be­lieved the gov­ern­ment would achieve a 0.6 per cent deficit, Mr Abousleima­n said it would “ba­si­cally raid the peo­ple’s money in the banks or take money from the cen­tral bank. That is money that be­longs to the peo­ple in both cases – it’s not re­ally that help­ful”.

Like most pro­test­ers, the Le­banese Forces have called for the gov­ern­ment to re­sign and hand over power to tech­nocrats who

would or­gan­ise early elec­tions. Mr Abousleima­n also called for in­de­pen­dent judges to be ap­pointed to lead a na­tional com­mis­sion to com­bat cor­rup­tion.

Le­banon is suf­fer­ing from an eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial cri­sis. A re­cent at­tempt to in­crease taxes trig­gered protests that spread through­out the coun­try.

Peo­ple have voiced many griev­ances, from cor­rup­tion to the cost of ed­u­ca­tion and health care. On Monday evening, demon­stra­tors chanted “all of them means all of them, Geagea and all of them” in the streets of Beirut, re­fer­ring to their de­mand for the gov­ern­ment to re­sign.

“The time is not to dis­cuss sub­stance, but who has the trust of the peo­ple to im­ple­ment change and re­ally com­bat cor­rup­tion. These are not these peo­ple,” Mr Abousleima­n said of the coun­try’s cur­rent lead­er­ship. “We need a gov­ern­ment con­sist­ing of competent, pro­fes­sional, in­de­pen­dent peo­ple who un­der­stand eco­nomic and fis­cal agen­das much bet­ter than the cur­rent group,” he said.

Mr Abousleima­n spent most of his work­ing life abroad as a fi­nance lawyer and re­turned to Le­banon this year for his first stint in pol­i­tics.

He said the Le­banese Forces min­is­ters re­signed be­cause they felt that the gov­ern­ment was pur­su­ing flawed poli­cies.

“We voted against the 2019 and 2020 bud­get, both in par­lia­ment and in the gov­ern­ment,” he said. “There were rea­sons to stay and rea­sons to leave, but we felt that it was much more im­por­tant to leave be­cause they were not going to pass what we think are nec­es­sary re­forms to save the [coun­try from] the fi­nan­cial, fis­cal, eco­nomic and so­cial cri­sis that we are now living un­der.”

Mr Abousleima­n said he was “pleas­antly sur­prised” by the street protests across the coun­try. “Peo­ple should be heard,” he said.

“What is hap­pen­ing is com­pletely unpreceden­ted.”

Camille Abousleima­n re­signed as Le­banon’s labour min­is­ter

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