General strike in Lebanon against gov’t formation deadlock

General strike in Lebanon against gov’t formation deadlock

BEIRUT (Rahnuma): Most of Lebanese public and private institutions went on strike Friday in protest against the absence of a government in Lebanon, the National News Agency (NNA) reported.

NNA reported that the institutions including Port of Beirut, Electricite Du Liban, and the National Social Security Fund met the Lebanese General Labor Union’s calls for putting on a strike in the country.

Workers from various sectors either went on a day-long strike or stopped working for a few hours, including employees at the Middle East Airlines, Air Transport Union, and Order of Engineers and hospitals employees.

Bechara Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Xinhua that the strike was very successful.

“The strike witnessed participation of workers from all over Lebanon. I met people who showed great support for our move,” he said.

Asmar noted that the aim of the strike is to push officials to accelerate government formation in Lebanon.

“It is not normal to experience an absence of government for eight months. We are asking for basic demands. We want a government that takes care of people’s issues and demands,” he said.

Lebanon has been struggling to form a government since Saad Hariri was designated prime minister in May 2018. The formation of government has been facing various hurdles, mainly differences among parties over the representation in the new government.

The absence of a government in Lebanon has delayed the implementation of reforms necessary to access the 11 billion U.S. dollars pledged for Lebanon at CEDRE Conference in 2018 to revamp the country’s ailing economy.

The delay in government formation also weighted heavily on consumer confidence who restricted their consumption of basic goods, causing businesses to lose incentives to produce and invest.

Moreover, a representative of the Lebanese economic sector said last year that about 2,200 companies have closed down because of economic slowdown, leading to an increase in unemployment among the Lebanese.

While the strike saw substantial participation of workers from different sectors, economic bodies and Lebanese officials voiced their opposition to such a move due to its negative impact on the economy.

Mohamed Choucair, head of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, told Xinhua that the strike comes at a very bad timing of the year.

“The General Labor Union announced the strike two days before new year while Lebanon is hosting a number of tourists, and businesses are hoping to make money to compensate for the losses they incurred in 2018 due to economic slowdown,” he said.

Choucair added that strikes and protests will not really push officials to accelerate government formation.

“The government will be formed only when there are political consensus reached,” he said.

Choucair believes that the strike has failed because businesses have opened their doors Friday and they did not commit to the call for strike.

Shops in Hamra, a shopping district, said that they did not take part in the strike because they cannot afford to shut down their businesses for one single day.

“We have been suffering all year long in 2018 due to the political instability which heavily impacted our sales. We cannot afford to shut down even for one day,” said a clothes shop owner who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Owner of Microcity, a computer shop, said he did not join the strike because he needs every single day to make up for last year’s slowdown in sales.

“The strike will not bring any results. To the contrary, it will negatively impact businesses,” he said.

Lebanese officials also voiced their opposition to the strike.

“We support people’s demands which should be implemented, but we are not in favor of protests which can have dangerous repercussions on the country,” House Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted by Elnashra, an online independent newspaper, as saying.

Likewise, lawmaker Antoine Bano said that he understands people’s concerns amid a complicated economic situation while adding that strikes and protests do not solve any of the issues or problems prevailing in the country.

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