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  • Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri after the announcement of the new government at the presidential palace in Baabda.

    Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri after the announcement of the new government at the presidential palace in Baabda. | Photo: Reuters

Published 31 January 2019

Eight months after the first general election in nine years, the Lebanese government has been affirmed.

After months of political stalemate in Lebanon amid a struggling economy and massive public debt, the country agreed on a new government Thursday.

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Saad al-Hariri will take on his third term as prime minister with challenges ahead to deliver reforms addressing the dire state finances and unlock billions of dollars in pledged aid and loans to boost low growth.

Heavily indebted and with a stagnant economy, Lebanon has desperately needed a new government to implement economic reforms to help put its public finances on a more sustainable path and access foreign aid.

The new government will include most Lebanese political factions, who have been negotiating the makeup of the cabinet since elections in May of last year, in which allies of the Hezbollah group gained ground. Lebanese leaders had been at odds on how to parcel out cabinet positions among rival groups according to a political system which shares government positions among Christians and Muslim sects.

Lebanon has a long history of power-sharing, involving different religious denominations, in the country's political system. The president, prime minister and speaker of the parliament are obliged to come from a specific religious background.

The final hurdle to a deal has been the Sunni representation, with six Sunni lawmakers who are aligned with the Shi’ite Hezbollah group demanding a cabinet seat to reflect their gains in the election.

The Shi'ite movement Hezbollah chose the new health minister, Jamil Jabak, although he is not a member of the group, meaning that Hezbollah has moved beyond the more marginal role it has played in previous governments. The health ministry is home to the fourth-largest budget in the state apparatus, according to the outgoing minister.

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's Amal party, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the leader of President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, retained their positions, the presidency said.

Last month, as the political wrangling was still underway in the formation of a new government, hundreds of citizens protested in Beirut against corruption, bad public services, increasing public debt which is more than 150 percent GDP.

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