Lebanon’s cabinet Monday approved a raft of economic reforms and agreed on the 2020 budget, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said, after growing protests that fuelled calls for his government’s resignation.
The premier told a televised press conference after a cabinet meeting that the measures, including a halving of salaries of MPs and ministers, were not merely an attempt to quell the demonstrations, in which the political class has been the main target.
“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,” he said.
“Your movement is what led to these decisions that you see today,” he added.
The protests which started five days earlier over tax hikes have evolved into an unprecedented push to remove Lebanon’s entire political leadership.
Hariri said key measures bring in no new taxes or fees on citizens or public sector employees.
There is to be a 50-percent decrease in salaries of all current and former presidents, lawmakers and ministers, Hariri added.
Lebanese banks and the central bank are to help decrease the public deficit by contributing up to $3.4 billion, some of it to be collected in the form of taxes on banks, the premier said.
The 2020 budget should reduce the public deficit to 0.6 percent of GDP.
– ‘Early elections’ –
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.”
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.
President Michel Aoun renamed Hariri as premier, but the latter then struggled for more than eight months to form a coalition government.
But in central Beirut protesters said the speech had not changed their minds.
Sixteen-year-old Peter Sayegh and his friends had brought a plastic table on which they were playing a card game called 400.
He said Hariri’s speech meant nothing and he needed to step down and allow for a new government.
“As a school student I want the people to rule and give us our rights and secure work for the country,” he said, leaning back on his plastic chair while clutching a Lebanese flag.
They have to “secure my future so I won’t have to emigrate,” he said.