Head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) Walid Joumblatt said on Friday that current Prime Minister Hassan Diab “is nothing.”
This is not the first stab Joumblatt has taken at the current government. Earlier this month, Joumblatt said on Twitter: “Mr. Diab, the seizure of the people’s money is an idea of security personnel, the Rustom bunch at the [Grand] Serail and an adviser of the country’s president, who demanded the recovery of the looted, granted and probably inherited money, because you are preparing for a financial and political coup to take over the country, along the Baath style.”
Joumblatt referred to Syria's ruling Baath party, which was notorious for its tough governance.
“Joumblatt, a harsh critic of the Syrian regime, was referring to Rustom Ghazeleh, the late former chief of the Syrian Intelligence which wielded great influence on Lebanese political leaders during the nearly three decades of Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon that ended in April 2005, two months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri," reported Lebanon's Daily Star.
The Diab government came to power after his successor Prime Minister Saad Hariri was ousted at the end of 2019 by popular protests. While protesters retreated back to their homes during a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus, they have recently seen a resurgence as the economy continues to collapse and the local currency loses value, spurring inflation.
Asked about voting for the Lebanese Prime Minister, Joumblatt says “Hassan Diab is nothing. The strong leading couple is the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah. They are in the government; they are the ones who will build a new Lebanon… which will be a Syrian province or could be a Syrian-Iranian province. We reject that and we will resist that peacefully and democratically.”
The Diab cabinet is said to be heavily influenced by the Iran-backed Hezbollah, and President Michel Aoun is a member of the FPM, where his son-in-law Gebran Bassil is the party’s head. Bassil served in the previous government as Minister Foreign Affairs, but was left out of the current cabinet.
Historically, Syria has had significant influence in Lebanese politics and Syrian troops formally withdrew from the country in 2005. Syrian sway in Lebanon has been further subdued in recent years due to the ongoing Syrian war.
But now, foreign meddling is the least of Lebanon’s problems as domestic issues mount.
The current crises were kick-started by an emerging dollar shortage – the product of poor central bank and government policies that led to a massive trade deficit. The country, reliant on dollars to pay for imports, is now tightly holding onto what dollars remain in the system.
“The Lebanese Central Bank Governor is not the problem. Riad Salameh has made a mistake, but he is not responsible, for example, for wasting $50-60 billion on electricity. The state’s political authority with its local components, especially the Free Patriotic Movement, are the ones who made him pay this huge bill, and until this moment there’s no one in the government of Hassan Diab who dares to interfere in the electricity sector.”
The state’s electricity sector runs a deficit of $1.8-2 billion annually and the country still fails to provide 24-hour electricity to its residents. Lebanon desperately needs to implement a series of reforms to attract international financial aid, and electricity is near the top of the list.
A new economic reform plan passed by the government yesterday sets a path forward for Lebanon and includes a plan to seek some $10 billion in assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and intends to cash-in on more than $11 billion in soft loans promised, dependent upon reforms, at a 2018 conference in Paris. So far, the government has failed to make any reforms necessary to unlock the funds.