Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Lebanese government appears trapped between the opposition’s campaign to topple it, against the backdrop of the assassination of Lebanese intelligence chief Wissam Hassan, and the strikes being organized by trade unions and public services for better pay. Teachers and civil servants, responding to a call by the Lebanese Union Coordination Committee [UCC], observed a one-day strike across Lebanon on Thursday in protest at government delays in carrying out a controversial pay scale, practically bringing the country to a stand-still. This completely disrupted Lebanese public services and administrations, whilst schools across the country were closed.
Commenting on the strikes, under fire Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said “we understand the cry of the UCC and the employees’ demands, but in the end we are responsible for maintaining financial stability and we cannot risk [making] any impromptu or hasty decisions that would hit the economy.”
Speaking on the day of the strikes, the Lebanese Prime Minister vowed not to bow to threats of escalatory measures by teacher unions and public sector employees. He stressed that “the salary scale issue cannot be solved by negativity or escalation, but by a calm debate on the best means to secure the needed revenues [to cover] the pay scale, while maintaining the acquired rights of public sector employees and monetary balance and sparing the productive sectors more burdens.”
He added “we call on everyone to carefully approach this issue and avoid involving it in political polarization because we are all concerned with protecting our country and not exposing monetary stability to any setback, particularly amid the state of [economic] stagnation and slowdown the entire region is witnessing.”
For his part, Lebanese Forces bloc MP Antoine Zahra informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the opposition’s position regarding the government’s resignation is not linked to it as a government, but rather its failure to do anything to stop the political assassinations.” He added “following the assassination of head of the information branch [of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces] and the other assassination attempts, we cannot follow the traditional approach regarding a government based on a quota system, because we cannot compromise on national security,”
MP Antoine Zahra revealed that “the only solution that we can think of is the resignation of the current government and carrying out political consultations to study how to return confidence to normal political operation in Lebanon.”
He asked “after today, how can we believe this government when it claims it is distancing itself when in reality government parties are embroiled in what is happening in Syria, as well as assassinations in Lebanon?”
The Lebanese Forces MP also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the dangerous thing is that they killed the chief of the security apparatus that is not subordinate to their sovereignty.”
Speaking earlier this week, Lebanese Forces bloc MP Antoine Zahra played down the potential for a political vacuum to emerge in Lebanon if the current government steps down.
He said “in [the Lebanese] constitution, there is nothing called ‘vacuum’ if [attempts] to form [an alternative] government fail, because the [old] cabinet will [become a caretaker government] until a new one is established with a vote of confidence.”
He stressed that international warnings regarding an emergence of a political vacuum in Lebanon seek to defend the current government, adding that a new government should be formed “after the required [political] consultations are carried out” in line with the Lebanese constitution.
MP Zahra also downplayed the chances of a new government being formed through national dialogue, asserting “we, [the March 14 forces], will not commit the same mistake and sit down with [the March 8 Forces] before the killings are brought to an end.”